Pancreas transplant : What happens

Pancreas transplants are carried out under general anaesthetic. This means you'll be asleep and will not feel anything during the procedure.

  • A cut will be made in your tummy, from just below your breastbone to below your belly button.
  • The donor pancreas is usually placed in the right side of your tummy and is connected to the blood vessels that carry blood down to your leg.
  • A small portion of the donor's small intestine will be attached either to your small intestine or your bladder to allow digestive juices to drain from the donor pancreas.
  • If you're having a combined pancreas and kidney transplant, the kidney will be placed low down on the left side of your tummy.
  • The old pancreas will not be removed as it'll continue to produce digestive juices while the donor pancreas produces insulin.

A pancreas transplant operation can take 4 to 5 hours to complete.

If you also need a kidney transplant at the same time, the operation can take around 6 to 8 hours.

Your new pancreas should start to produce insulin straight away.


Islet transplantation

A small number of people with type 1 diabetes may have a slightly different procedure, where only the cells that produce insulin (islet cells) are transplanted from a donor pancreas into the liver.

This is called islet transplantation and is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, which means you're awake but the area being operated on is numbed.

A thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted through your tummy and liver into the vein that supplies the liver with blood. The donor islet cells are then injected into it.

If the operation is successful, the donor cells will start making insulin. This can help people who experience severe episodes of a dangerously low blood sugar level that occur without warning.

Insulin treatment is often still needed after the operation, but the episodes of low blood sugar should be easier to control.

As with a conventional pancreas transplant, you'll need to take medicine to suppress your immune system for the rest of your life.

For more information, see the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on allogeneic pancreatic islet cell transplantation for type 1 diabetes mellitus.

After the operation

Once the transplant is complete, you'll usually be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) or a high dependency unit (HDU).

You'll be very closely looked after, and various tubes and machines that help monitor your health and support the functions of your body will be attached to you.

Find out more about recovering from a pancreas transplant

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