Woman no longer a diabetic after medics perform UAE's first pancreas transplant

The patient also received a new kidney following a dual operation

This photograph from another kidney transplant at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi looks similar to how the pancreas and kidney combined procedure would have been in the operating room. Courtesy Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Medics at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi have performed the UAE's first pancreas transplant in an operation that also gave the patient a new kidney.

After the five-hour operation, the woman with Type 1 diabetes now has a new kidney to treat her diabetes-related kidney failure and a new pancreas to eliminate her reliance on insulin injections.

Following the operation, her new kidney will be able to filter waste from her blood while her new pancreas will produce insulin to manage her blood sugar, effectively ending her status as a Type 1 diabetic.

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For patients who have been living with the need to inject insulin every day, that feeling of liberation can be truly profound

The landmark operation took place last month and offers hope for Type 1 diabetics suffering significant complications such as kidney failure or those who cannot control their blood sugar with insulin injections.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The condition usually starts in childhood and affects about 5 per cent of all diabetics worldwide.

“Pancreas transplants are very complex operations that require a great deal of evaluation before the surgery can take place,"  said Dr Luis Campos, the surgeon who led the transplant operation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

"Most patients with Type 1 diabetes can manage their blood sugar using insulin injections. However, if they develop kidney disease that progresses to the point they require a transplant, combining that procedure with a pancreas transplant can really change their life."

Further details about the patient, who is in her twenties, were not released but the rare, dual organ transplant marked the hospital's 100th organ transplant since the introduction of the procedure in 2017.

Dr Luis Campos, the surgeon who led the transplant operation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Pancreas operations are very complex, he said. Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

A change in the law in 2017 made transplants from dead donors legal in the UAE.

A recent survey by Dubai Health Authority found 30 per cent of the emirate's population was either diabetic, or pre-diabetic. Young people are becoming more at risk from diabetes and inactive people are twice as likely to suffer from the condition, the survey found. Type 2 diabetes is the most common and a healthier lifestyle is encouraged to prevent it. But for those with Type 1, the transplant brings hope.

"The introduction of pancreas transplantation in the UAE has the potential to significantly change lives for the better," Dr Campos said.

"We can now combine a life-saving kidney transplant with a life altering pancreas transplant that frees patients with Type 1 diabetes from daily insulin injections. For patients who have been living with the need to inject insulin every day, that feeling of liberation can be truly profound."

Since undergoing surgery, the recipient continues to recover well, and her body is able to produce insulin for the first time in more than 20 years.