Pancreas transplants for patients such as Schofield are not typically an option because they are difficult to perform, said Dr. Michael Rickels, associate professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania. But an experimental procedure using the pancreas’ islet cells is being tested at medical centers around the country. If it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it could make a difference for patients who are no longer able to successfully manage their diabetes.
Islet cells contain beta cells that produce insulin, as well as alpha cells that produce a hormone called glucagon. Both are used to regulate the body’s glucose, or sugar, levels. In the 1990s, scientists in Alberta, Canada, figured out how to isolate these islets from a deceased donor’s pancreas and transplant them into the liver of a diabetic patient.