How a pancreas transplant is carried out 

Pancreas transplants are carried out under general anaesthetic. This means you will lose consciousness and won't feel anything during the procedure.

At the start of the transplant a cut will be made in your abdomen (tummy). Your current pancreas will not be removed because it will continue to produce digestive juices while the donor pancreas produces insulin.

The donor pancreas will be connected to the blood vessels that carry blood to and from your leg (the right leg is usually used). A small portion of the donor’s small intestine will be attached either to your small intestine or, occasionally, your bladder.

If you are having a combined pancreas and kidney transplant, the kidney will be placed on the left-hand side of the lower abdomen. The pancreas will be positioned on the right-hand side.

A pancreas transplant operation can take three to four hours to complete. However, if you also need a kidney transplant at the same time, the procedure can take around six to eight hours.

Your new pancreas should start to produce insulin straight away, while your old pancreas continues performing other functions.

Islet transplantation

Some people with type 1 diabetes may benefit from a fairly new procedure known as islet cell transplantation. It involves implanting healthy islet cells from the pancreas of a deceased donor into the pancreas of someone with type 1 diabetes.

In 2008, a government-funded islet cell transplant programme was introduced, and the procedure is now available through the NHS for people who satisfy certain criteria.

You may be suitable for an islet cell transplant if you've had:

  • two or more severe hypos within the last two years and you have a poor awareness of hypoglycaemia
  • a working kidney transplant, severe hypos and poor hypoglycaemia awareness, or poor blood glucose control even after receiving the best medical treatment

You may not be suitable for an islet cell transplant if you:

  • weigh over 85kg (13st 5.4lb)
  • have poor kidney function
  • need a lot of insulin – for example, over 50 units a day for a 70kg (11st) person

An islet cell transplant is a minor, low-risk procedure that's carried out under local anaesthetic.

The procedure has been shown to be effective at reducing the risk of severe hypos. So far, the results of islet cell transplants carried out in the UK have shown a significant reduction in the number of hypos, from 23 per person per year before transplantation to less than one per person per year afterwards.

Page last reviewed: 12/07/2014

Next review due: 12/07/2016