Chronic Pancreatitis and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant

Our Program

At UNC Medical Center, we are proud of our collaborative approach to patient care. The Chronic Pancreatitis and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant Program evaluates all types of pancreatic disorders and develops treatment plans unique to each patient’s needs.

Chronic Pancreatitis

A healthy pancreas has two main roles in the body: to secrete digestive enzymes into the intestines for digestion of food, and to secrete hormones like insulin that help manage blood sugar. When a person has chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas is inflamed, causing lots of pain and difficulty with digestion. Sometimes people with severe chronic pancreatitis need to take digestive enzymes to help them digest the food they eat. Even when pancreatitis is severe and digestion of food is difficult, the pancreas usually retains its ability to secrete insulin and regulate blood sugar.

In patients with severe chronic pancreatitis, after medical and endoscopic therapeutic interventions are exhausted, a Total Pancreatectomy and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant (TPAIT) is considered. The procedure takes advantage of the fact that in many people with chronic pancreatitis, certain insulin-secreting cells, called islet-cells, still function even when the rest of the pancreas is not working normally.

Total Pancreatectomy and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant (TPAIT)

During this procedure, the surgeon removes the pancreas, harvests those insulin-secreting islet cells from the pancreas, then reinfuses those cells back into the liver where they find a home and help manage blood sugar by secreting insulin. The goal of this procedure is to reduce pain, improve quality of life and prevent severe diabetes.

The Highest Level of Care

This life changing procedure, performed under the care of an experienced surgical team, represents the highest available level of care. At UNC Medical Center, we offer new hope for patients suffering from recurrent and chronic pancreatic disorders. UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill is the only hospital in North Carolina, and one of only twelve in the United States, offering TPAIT.

Is TPAIT For You?

This procedure is for those patients whose recurrent and chronic pancreatic disorders (listed below) have not been helped by other medical and endoscopic procedures. TPAIT can be performed for both adults and children and may be an option for patients with:

  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Recurrent acute pancreatitis
  • Pancreatic cystic disorders
  • Disconnected pancreatic duct syndrome
  • Hereditary pancreatitis in patients with genetic mutations
  • Pancreatitis in cystic fibrosis

What to expect before and after TPAIT

Before the procedure:

Our team of specialists will meet with you beforehand to see if this procedure could be right for you. We take great care in matching the appropriate person to the correct treatment plan. In addition to meeting with your surgeon and endocrinologist, you will meet with your care coordinator, social worker, and dietitian to develop and review your care plan. We call these specialists your care team. Together, they will answer all of your questions and ensure you have the resources you need before, during, and after surgery.

After the procedure:

After surgery, you will spend 8-12 days in the hospital. Your surgeon, endocrinologist, and nutritionist will monitor your blood sugars closely and collaborate with you to ensure you are prepared to leave the hospital. You will also meet with other members of your care team, including a psychologist and social worker, to help you recover and transition back home.

After you leave the hospital, you will have regular follow-up appointments with your doctor and ongoing access to your care team in case you have questions. Your doctors and other specialists will support you through recovery and beyond.


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Surgical Treatment Options for Chronic Pancreatitis

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We talked to Chirag Desai, MD, transplant and pancreatic surgeon to learn more about surgical treatment options for chronic pancreatitis.

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Patient Story: Magnolia

Autologous Islet Cell Transplant allowed Magnolia relief from a chronic and severely painful disease.

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