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Local doctors pioneer treating pancreatitis without the onset of diabetes at Jewish Hospital.
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces enzymes to help digest food and insulin to control blood sugar. In some people, genetic predisposition, medical conditions such as gallstones or lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol lead to inflammation in the pancreas called pancreatitis. This condition can be dangerous if left untreated.
Based on 2013 data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, chronic pancreatitis in Kentucky contributed to over 4,500 emergency room visits, 3,200 hospital admissions and approximately $75 million in annual medical costs.
“Removing the pancreas is the only way to cure pancreatitis,” said Michael Hughes, MD, transplant surgeon with Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health, associate professor of surgery at the University of Louisville and surgeon with University of Louisville Physicians. “But the pancreas is responsible for creating insulin — the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Without the pancreas to create insulin, patients who have the organ removed to correct pancreatitis used to develop brittle diabetes. The islet auto-transplant procedure changes that.”
The pancreas contains clusters of cells that produce hormones. These clusters are known as islets, and they are the source of insulin. In patients who undergo islet auto-transplant, their islet cells are harvested from the pancreas when it is removed. The process takes place at the Clinical Islet Cell Laboratory at the University of Louisville, under the direction of Balamurugan Appakalai, PhD, a leader in the field of islet cell transplantation.
Cells are processed into a solution that is then slowly reintroduced into the patient’s body through catheters connected to veins that feed the liver. The islet cells make themselves at home in the liver, where they begin producing insulin again. Doing this allows doctors to effectively prevent diabetes from developing permanently in patients who have had their pancreas removed.
“Islet auto-cell transplantation is a complex process that takes cooperation and collaboration during each step of the process,” Dr. Hughes said. “We are fortunate to be in an environment where medical professionals and institutions embrace the spirit of collaboration for the benefit of patients.”
To learn more about islet cell transplantation, call 844.739.2998.
The islet cell transplantation program has, in a very short period of time, grown to become one of the largest in the world. Islet cell recipients experience excellent outcomes, raising the hopes for continued breakthroughs in the years to come.
Islet cells are separated from the pancreas in a clean room facility and will later be infused into the patient’s liver, where they will produce insulin to control the body’s blood sugar levels.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 Summer edition of One Health Magazine. Sign up for your free subscription.