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University Health Care Readies for 1st Pancreas Transplant

Apr 2, 2007 6:00 PM

Best option for some diabetes patients

For some diabetes patients, a pancreas transplant is the best treatment option, and those who may benefit from the procedure now can get it at University Health Care.

The solid organ transplant program, which last year expanded to include liver transplantation, was certified in December to perform pancreas transplants by the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), the national organization that certifies transplant programs. University Health Care currently is evaluating potential candidates for the first transplant, according to Jason J. Schwartz, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and surgical director of pancreas transplants.

"To provide a comprehensive (transplant) program, pancreas transplants have to be included," says Schwartz. "This dovetails nicely with our liver program because of renal disease associated with diabetes."

The pancreas makes insulin, a protein the body uses to regulate blood glucose levels. When insulin isn't produced, or the body becomes resistant to it, diabetes occurs, with potentially devastating complications such as kidney disease, poor circulation, blindness, and failure of other organs.

For some diabetics, particularly those having trouble managing their glucose levels, a pancreas transplant is the best therapy, because it gives them the ability to make insulin and address the disease at its root cause.

"In some cases, a pancreas transplant is a more suitable treatment," Schwartz says. "Correcting this insulin deficit will impact the patient's ability to live a longer and more productive life."

Pancreas transplants can be appropriate for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to serious medical problems.

"The addition of pancreas transplantation to our program offers us the opportunity to better serve patients in the University's Diabetes Center," according to Sean J. Mulvihill, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Surgery. "It also opens up new avenues of research into the causes and treatment of diabetes and related diseases."

Fuad Shihab, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the nephrology division, is medical director of the pancreas transplant program, and John B. Sorensen, M.D., professor of surgery, also will participate in the transplant operations.

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