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Islet cells are scattered throughout the pancreas. They help produce insulin, which controls the body's sugar level. When they are not working properly, insulin is not produced and diabetes occurs. Although insulin can be given by needle, there are many complications from this disease. Transplanting islet cells can treat diabetes and may prevent complications from it.
Islet cells, which are separated from the donated pancreas, are collected for transplantation. Islet cells may be transplanted soon after being retrieved, or they can be stored and used at a later time. During the transplant, the islet cells are put into a syringe, then infused into the person's liver through a vein. The procedure takes less than one hour.
Only a few centres worldwide are performing islet cell transplantation. Although considered experimental, the hope is that one day patients will not need to inject insulin any more. Currently, about 70 percent of patients receiving islet cells are able to produce insulin. Another 20 percent of patients do not require insulin injections for at least one year.