Islet Transplant

Islets are miniature organs called organelles in the pancreas that are made up of thousands of cells and microscopic blood vessels. Your islets are responsible for secreting the insulin your body needs to burn glucose and other sugars. Sometimes islets can become damaged or destroyed by immune cells or the loss of pancreatic tissue, which can lead to insulin deficiencies and diabetes. If diabetes develops, it can lead to serious complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and blood vessel disease. 

To support our patients who suffer from diabetes and other pancreatic diseases, Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center opened the first islet laboratory in the city of Houston in 2007. The lab focuses on transplanting healthy, insulin-producing islet cells from a donor's pancreas into the recipient, offering new hope for patients with diabetes. Our lab is among fewer than 25 like it in the United States; in addition to clinical treatments, our doctors are actively involved in research to advance our knowledge about islet cells and how they function.

During an islet transplant, islets are infused into the tissues of your body (usually your liver) to help control diabetes. Diabetes can be both the cause and the result  of the destruction of insulin-producing islet cells; in type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune reaction destroys the islet cells’ ability to secrete insulin. Removal of your pancreas, from a common reason such as chronic pancreatitis, can be another path to diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is normally treated with a combination of changes in diet and eating habits and insulin-replacement therapy, but complications can arise if your diabetes is hard to control with these methods. Islet transplant offers a promising treatment for these types of patients.

The islets can be harvested from a donor pancreas (called allografts, the usual method for people with type 1 diabetes) or from your own pancreas (called autografts, the usual method for people who have their pancreas removed due to chronic pancreatitis). The islets are infused into your liver (or sometimes into other tissues), and the cells usually start producing insulin immediately. In an allograft procedure, you will require daily immune suppression medications to prevent rejection; when your own islets are used, you will not need immunosuppressants.

At the Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center, our transplant team will help through all stages of treatment. Through collaboration with the Diabetes and Metabolic Disease Research Program, we are on the cutting edge of research into diabetes prevention and cure, exploring the functions of islet cells at the molecular level and devising advanced desensitization treatments to minimize rejection.

Patient Stories  
Perhaps the best way to learn about our highly trained islet transplant specialists, the compassionate environment and innovative treatments offered at the Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center is through our patients. Link to the inspiring story below to learn more about being a patient at Houston Methodist.


Our doctors specialize in islet transplantation at the following locations: