Panel approves pancreatic islet transplants from brain-dead people

September 01, 2012

By AKIYOSHI ABE/ Staff Writer

Transplants of insulin-secreting pancreatic cells from brain-dead people have been approved and will likely start as early as autumn to treat serious cases of diabetes, sources said.

A health ministry panel on assessing advanced medical care on Aug. 24 endorsed transplants of the cells, called islets of Langerhans, for clinical tests.

Part of the medical expenses involved in the transplants, including examinations and medication, could be covered by public insurance upon approval by another expert panel of the health ministry.

Islet transplants have been performed on patients with serious diabetes whose islets can no longer generate insulin, a modulator of blood sugar levels.

Although transplants of the entire pancreas are more common as a fundamental therapy, islet transplants started in Japan in 2004.

Thirty-five islet transplants have been performed so far. The islets came from people in cardiac arrest and from family members of the patients, but none were from brain-dead people.

Islet transplants, which involve injecting islets into blood vessels in the pancreas, are considered less of a burden on patients than full pancreas transplants, which involve major incisions in the abdomen.

But separating the islets is technically difficult. About half of the recipients have undergone two or three transplants because the islets collected at one time have proved insufficient.

About 120 people are on the waiting list for islet transplants across Japan, according to the Japan Society for Pancreas and Islet Transplantation, an association of transplant surgeons and other people concerned.

Six hospitals, including the Fukushima Medical University Hospital, will take part in the clinical tests, which will concur with islet transplants from people in cardiac arrest.

The latest approval for transplants from brain-dead people is expected to increase the number of donors, society officials said, adding that they will make preparations in coordination with relevant professional medical associations.

By AKIYOSHI ABE/ Staff Writer
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