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Can a Pancreas Transplant Cure Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a tricky disease caused by a mix of things like our genes, the immune system, and the environment, with the pancreas playing a vital role in the mess.

But here’s some good news: a pancreas transplant can be a game-changer for those with type 1 diabetes! Replacing a sick or injured pancreas with a healthy one from a donor who has passed on can give people a new lease on life. No more relying on insulin injections to check those blood sugar levels! [1]

Figure 1 A Closer Look at the Pancreas

But with any surgery, there are risks and benefits to consider. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about pancreas transplantation, including the benefits, risks, and who can be considered for the procedure.

Who needs a Pancreas Transplant?

For those who have suffered serious complications from type 1 diabetes, a pancreas transplant can be a life-changing solution. But it’s important to note that the procedure can have significant side effects, so it’s typically reserved for those who truly need it.

So who is eligible? Generally, doctors consider a pancreas transplant for people with type 1 diabetes who experience severe episodes of low blood sugar or have trouble controlling their blood sugar levels with traditional treatments. If you’re one of the many people with diabetes who also have kidney disease, a pancreas transplant may be performed simultaneously with a kidney transplant. [2][3]

There are three main categories of patients who may be considered for a pancreas transplant:

  • Individuals who have already undergone a kidney transplant and are taking anti-rejection medications may benefit from a pancreas after a kidney transplant. This approach is especially beneficial for those who have had trouble managing their blood sugar levels with insulin alone.
  • Patients who are experiencing kidney failure or have already started dialysis may need both a kidney and a pancreas transplant. These simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplants from a cadaver donor can improve kidney function and restore normal glycemia, potentially preventing future kidney damage.
  • Patients who have not yet developed kidney failure but have extreme difficulty managing their diabetes, such as those with neuropathy, may benefit from a pancreas transplant alone. However, this option is only recommended when other treatments have failed due to the need for immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection. [3]

Interestingly, recent research suggests that pancreas transplantation may also be useful in treating certain cases of type 2 diabetes. The latest research calls to loosen the criteria for considering these patients for the procedure. [4]

Determining whether you are a good candidate for a pancreas transplant requires a comprehensive evaluation by a team of experts. Depending on your specific needs and circumstances, you may undergo additional tests and evaluations to determine the best course of action.

Side Effects of Pancreas Transplants for T1D Patients

Like with most medical procedures, there are potential complications that patients considering pancreas transplantation need to be aware of.

One of the major risks of pancreas transplantation is the chance of rejection. This happens when the patient’s immune system recognizes the transplanted pancreas as foreign and attacks it. Rejection can lead to complications such as blood clots forming in the blood vessels supplying the donor pancreas, short-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), and even failure of the donated pancreas. [3]

To prevent rejection, patients need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. [3] However, these medications can also have side effects, such as bone thinning, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, sensitivity to sunlight, puffiness, weight gain, swollen gums, acne, and excessive hair growth or loss. [2][3]

Another potential complication of pancreas transplantation is the risk of infection due to the suppression of the immune system by anti-rejection medications. Patients may have an increased chance of catching certain infections, and bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can be significant causes of mortality and morbidity in the long term. [2][3]

Urinary complications, such as leaks or urinary tract infections, are also possible after pancreas transplantation. In addition, excess sugar in the blood or other metabolic problems can occur as a result of the surgery. [2][3]

It’s important to note that while many of these problems are treatable, in some cases, it may be necessary to remove the donor pancreas if complications arise. In addition to the risks and complications associated with the surgery itself, pancreas transplant recipients also need to be mindful of the side effects of immunosuppressive medications. These medications work by suppressing the immune system to prevent the rejection of the transplanted pancreas. Still, they also make it harder for the body to defend itself against infection and disease. [2][3]

Can a Pancreas Transplant Cure Type 1 Diabetes?

Successful pancreas transplantation restores regulated endogenous insulin production and eliminates the need for exogenous insulin administration. In other words, patients with fully functioning pancreatic grafts who do not experience acute diabetic complications are cured of diabetes. [5]

According to a study by the University of Chicago, pancreas transplantation can improve hypoglycemia counter-regulation by enhancing the body’s responses to glucose lowering. These improvements are stable and long-lasting, with some patients seeing benefits up to 19 years after the grafting. [6][7]

For many patients with type 1 diabetes who have tried conventional medical management but are still experiencing serious insulin-induced hypoglycemia, a pancreas transplant may be the best solution. As always, it’s important to work with a medical professional to determine the best course of treatment. [8]


Living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging, and patients often have many questions regarding their condition and treatment options.

Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers based on current research:

Can Type 1 Diabetes Patients Get Kidney Transplants?

Yes, type 1 diabetes patients can get kidney transplants. In fact, kidney transplantation is the most common type of organ transplant performed on people with type 1 diabetes who develop kidney failure. In some cases, pancreas transplantation may also be performed alongside kidney transplantation. [3]

How Long Can I Live with a Pancreas Transplant?

According to recent research, a pancreas transplant can provide long-term benefits for type 1 diabetes patients with kidney failure. The five-year survival rate after a pancreas transplant is approximately 80%, and some patients have seen benefits up to 19 years after the grafting. [9] However, the success of a pancreas transplant depends on various factors, including the recipient’s age, overall health, and compliance with immunosuppressive medications. [2]

The Success Rate and Cost of Pancreas Transplant

Pancreas transplant success rates are high, according to a meta-analysis of transplant studies. About 80% of patients experience successful graft function within the first year after surgery, with a slight decline over time. At 3 years, roughly 75% of patients still have functioning grafts, and at 5 years, about 70% do.

Surprisingly, factors such as age, gender, and type of diabetes do not significantly impact the transplant success rate. [10] Keep in mind, however, that in the USA, the cost of a pancreas transplant can range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the type of transplant and location. [2]

Can I Donate My Pancreas to My Son/Daughter?

No, a pancreas transplant can only be performed using a pancreas from a deceased donor. However, living donation is possible for kidney transplantation, and in some cases, a living donor may donate a kidney and a portion of their liver for transplantation. [11]

Final Thoughts

If you or a loved one is considering a pancreas transplant, it’s important to be aware of the potential success rates and costs involved. While the success rate of a pancreas transplant is high, it’s important to weigh the financial and medical risks before making a decision.

Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to making important medical decisions. Don’t hesitate to seek out resources and support to help you make the best choice for your health and well-being.


  1. Richardson SJ, Morgan NG, Foulis AK. Pancreatic pathology in type 1 diabetes mellitus. Endocr Pathol. 2014;25(1):80-92. doi:10.1007/S12022-014-9297-8
  2. Pancreas transplant – Mayo Clinic. Accessed April 4, 2023.
  3. Hakim NS. Pancreatic transplantation for patients with Type I diabetes. HPB (Oxford). 2002;4(2):59. doi:10.1080/136518202760378407
  4. Al-Qaoud TM, Odorico JS, Redfield RR. Pancreas transplantation in type 2 diabetes: Expanding the criteria. Curr Opin Organ Transplant. 2018;23(4):454-460. doi:10.1097/MOT.0000000000000553
  5. Lombardo C, Perrone VG, Amorese G, et al. Update on Pancreatic Transplantation in the Management of Diabetes. Learning Surgery: The Surgery Clerkship Manual. Published online August 17, 2021:718-734. doi:10.1007/0-387-28310-2_41
  6. Endotext – NCBI Bookshelf. Accessed April 5, 2023.
  7. Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Blackman MR, et al. Endotext. Endotext. Published online 2000. Accessed April 5, 2023.
  8. Lombardo C, Perrone VG, Amorese G, et al. Update on Pancreatic Transplantation in the Management of Diabetes. Learning Surgery: The Surgery Clerkship Manual. Published online August 17, 2021:718-734. doi:10.1007/0-387-28310-2_41
  9. Lombardo C, Perrone VG, Amorese G, et al. Update on Pancreatic Transplantation in the Management of Diabetes. Learning Surgery: The Surgery Clerkship Manual. Published online August 17, 2021:718-734. doi:10.1007/0-387-28310-2_41
  10. Gruessner AC, Sutherland DER, Gruessner RWG. Long-term outcome after pancreas transplantation. Curr Opin Organ Transplant. 2012;17(1):100-105. doi:10.1097/MOT.0B013E32834EE700
  11. Living Organ Donation | Accessed April 5, 2023.

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