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Dr. Rajab performs areas first islet cell transplant

A Columbus area woman is recovering at home after a unique medical procedure that is expected to eliminate her need to take insulin for controlling her type 1 diabetes. The pancreatic islet cell transplant is a first for Ohio State University Medical Center, one of about a dozen medical centers in the country with a team in place to perform the transplants that improve the quality of life for people with diabetes.

Ohio State has been preparing for the highly specialized procedure for more than seven years, says Dr. Amer Rajab, a transplant surgeon who leads the team. “Being able to offer such advanced treatment to our patients is a dream come true after so many years of hard work to lay the foundation for this program,” said Rajab.

Rajab says it takes a very systemized approach to be successful with islet cell transplants, not to mention a precise match between the donor and recipient. “Rejection of the transplanted cells is our biggest concern, and as with all types of organ and tissue transplants, recipients need to take anti-rejection drugs for life to suppress their immune system.”

The transplant at Ohio State took place two weeks ago, and the 43-year-old patient was in the hospital for only a short time before going home to complete her recovery. “She is taking a decreased dose of insulin while her body acclimates itself to the infused cells,” says Rajab. “We’re very optimistic that over time the body will begin producing its own insulin and regulating glucose in the blood.”

Rajab said candidate selection is very important and those on the waiting list for islet cell transplants must meet strict criteria. “Candidates undergo many specific tests, but what they all have in common is type 1 diabetes that generally cannot be controlled with good medical management,” says Rajab. A person with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live.

Once the donor pancreas was received at OSU Medical Center, Rajab and his team began a nine-hour process to isolate and purify high quality islets. Islets, tissue comprised of several different types of cells, include beta cells that make insulin. During the transplant, a radiologist guided the placement of a catheter in the abdomen to infuse the islets into the portal vein of the liver, where the cells mimic the function of the pancreas.

In 2008, Ohio State successfully performed its first auto-islet transplant, where a patient received her own islets to treat her pancreatitis. Ohio State’s comprehensive organ and tissue transplant program was developed in the 1960s and today is one of the largest in the country for kidney and pancreas transplantation.