What Is Pancreas and Islet Cell Transplantation?

Pancreas and islet cell transplantation involves the replacement of a diseased pancreas and islet cells with healthy ones in a patient with uncontrollable diabetes.

Pancreas transplantation restores the function of the pancreas, with these goals:

  • Patients no longer need insulin
  • Diabetes-related problems are slowed down

Islet cell transplantation by itself is the transfer of healthy islet of Langerhans cells from a healthy pancreas to a diabetic patient whose islet cells are not functioning properly, with the goal of eliminating the need for daily insulin injections. Pancreatic islets contain several types of cells that produce insulin.

Pancreas transplants are often performed in conjunction with a kidney transplant in patients whose diabetes has damaged their kidneys. Northwestern Medicine offers several treatment options:

  • Simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplantation (SPK): For patients with type 1 diabetes and renal failure who are considering a kidney transplant, this makes it possible for both the kidney disease and diabetes to be treated with a combined transplant of both the kidney and pancreas from the same donor in a single surgery.
  • Pancreas after kidney transplantation (PAK): For patients with a functioning kidney transplant who continue to have type 1 diabetes, a pancreas transplant will improve the diabetes without a significant change in the immunosuppression needed for the kidney transplant.
  • Pancreas transplantation alone (PTA): This is for patients with severe diabetes that is difficult to control with conventional insulin therapy who still have normal kidneys and do not need a kidney transplant. Patients with labile ("brittle") diabetes or problems with hypoglycemia who receive a successful pancreas transplant will no longer require insulin therapy for nearly perfect blood sugar control.

For patients getting a pancreas alone, the pancreas survival rates at one year are between 80 and 85 percent, and patient survival is over 97 percent. About 90 percent of transplanted kidneys and about 85 percent of the transplanted pancreases still work one year after surgery. Patient survival following simultaneous pancreas kidney transplantation is between 95 and 97 percent at one year.

Over the past 10 years, Northwestern Memorial Hospital has developed one of the largest pancreas transplant programs in Illinois. With 32 pancreas transplants, Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed the 2nd most pancreas transplants in 2023, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Our transplant patient and graft outcomes continue to compare favorably with local, regional and national outcomes.

Auto-islet transplantation for chronic pancreatitis

Northwestern Medicine offers an exciting new treatment for patients who have had a total pancreatectomy (removal of the pancreas) due to chronic pancreatitis. Once the pancreatic surgeons remove your pancreas, the islet cell team processes the pancreas so the islets of Langerhans are isolated. These cells are then infused through the portal vein into your liver. Because they are derived from your own pancreas, no immunosuppression medication is required.

Instead of developing insulin-dependent diabetes following a total pancreatectomy, you will essentially enjoy the same glycemic control (ability to manage blood sugar) as prior to the removal of your pancreas.

Why Northwestern Medicine?

Our experienced transplant teams* have made important advances in the field of pancreas and islet cell transplantation. Northwestern Medicine pioneered the first trials of steroid-sparing immunosuppression in pancreas transplantation. This has resulted in exemplary outcomes and improved patient well-being, placing our pancreas program among the nation's best.

The outstanding nurses of Northwestern Medicine work together with the physicians to provide excellent patient care. A highly integrated physician specialty team provides the latest technology in diagnostics, therapeutics and medical/surgical care—making tomorrow’s breakthroughs present today.

Our pancreas transplant center offers:

  • An experienced center for prednisone-free pancreas transplantation
  • Pancreas transplant outcomes that meet or exceed national results
  • Collaboration among physicians and surgeons who are recognized leaders in the treatment of diabetes

Our islet cell transplantation center offers:

  • One of the first and most active islet cell transplant program in Illinois
  • NIH-supported clinical trials in islet cell transplantation
  • Clinical trials to evaluate the most modern anti-rejection therapy to prolong transplant graft survival
  • Steroid-free islet cell transplant immunosuppression
  • Integration with the Kidney Transplant Program for combined transplants for patients with renal disease and type 1 diabetes
  • Collaboration among physicians and surgeons who are recognized leaders in the treatment of diabetes

Schedule an Appointment

To learn if you qualify for a liver, kidney or pancreas transplant, please call 312.695.4837. We can help you schedule an appointment at one of our 23 locations.

Related Resources



  • American Lung Association: This organization is working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through research, education and advocacy.
  • American Society of Transplantation: This website’s Patient Information section offers a number of resources for transplant patients.
  • Coalition on Donation: The organization promotes organ donation and provides education about it.
  • Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network: Website of the not-for-profit organ procurement organization that works with hospitals and donor families in the northern three-fourths of Illinois and northwest Indiana. The organization is responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for medical transplantation in the service area, as well as for professional and public education on organ and tissue donation.
  • MedlinePlus: This is a trusted source that covers all aspects of organ donation and provides easy access to medical journal articles, extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials and the latest health news.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI): This division of the National Institutes of Health offers information about the lung transplantation process.
  • National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking this initiative to ease the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors by building a national community of organ sharing.
  • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN): OPTN is a unique public-private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system. Its goals are to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation and the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
  • Transplant Living: This is the United Network for Organ Sharing patient education site for all transplant patients.
  • Transplant Village: Giving Back to Northwestern Medicine: Transplant Village is a community of organ recipients, donors and family members who have had their lives touched and changed by the Northwestern Medicine Organ Transplant Center. With efforts managed by the Northwestern Medicine Transplant Advisory Council, this group has come together to create a network of resources and support and to raise funds for research and patient care at our affiliated hospitals.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): Through the UNOS Organ Center, organ donors are matched to waiting recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Through its policies, UNOS ensures that all patients have a fair chance at receiving the organ they need—regardless of age, sex, race, lifestyle, religion, or financial or social status. UNOS members include every transplant program, organ procurement organization and tissue typing laboratory in the United States.
  • U.S. Transplant—Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR): The SRTR supports the ongoing evaluation of the scientific and clinical status of solid organ transplantation in the United States.

Support Groups


In the spirit of keeping you well-informed, some of the physician(s) and/or individual(s) identified are neither agents nor employees of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare or any of its affiliate organizations. They have selected our facilities as places where they want to treat and care for their private patients.