September 11, 2000
Question from Georgia, USA:
Can a family member be a donor for pancreas cells? How old should you be to be eligible for this?
At the present time, all pancreas islet transplants have to be based on cadaver organs. No one has yet been able to culture human islets, so the problem of availability of donors is a real one. Theoretically, it would be possible to remove a pancreas from a family member and transplant it, but the immediate risk to the donor of the surgery and the exigencies of replacement therapy for both insulin and digestive enzymes does not justify this.
For the time being, transplant of whole pancreas has become a remarkably successful procedure which is mostly used for subjects who also need a kidney transplant. A group in Canada have just reported a remarkably successful procedure for islet cell transplants though it takes the islets of two pancreas’s to have sufficient donor material. There is a group in New Zealand that are preparing to try a technic for using porcine islet cells that have been encapsulated to protect them against autoimmune damage. For all these successes, conventional therapy with new insulins and new dosage scheduling together with minimally invasive blood glucose sampling has much to recommend it as the treatment of choice.
[Editor’s comment: See Alberta Foundation Reports on Successful Islet Transplants for more information.