NYU Langone Transplant Institute has launched a new pancreas transplantation program, completing the health system’s comprehensive offering of solid organ and blood and bone marrow transplants. The new program will expand regional access to specialized care for patients with serious health complications from diabetes and other illnesses.
The program is led by two renowned experts in the field: Zoe A. Stewart Lewis, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon who joined NYU Langone from the University of Iowa in May 2018 and serves as surgical director of the kidney and pancreas transplantation programs; and Nicole M. Ali, MD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, who serves as medical director of the pancreas transplantation program and transplantation outreach at the Transplant Institute.
This is the third transplantation program to launch at NYU Langone Transplant Institute within a year, following close on the heels of new heart and lung transplantation programs. “With the addition of the pancreas transplant program led by Dr. Stewart Lewis and Dr. Ali, we further enhance our reputation as a leading comprehensive transplant center in the region, with the advanced expertise to take on the most complex cases,” says Robert Montgomery, MD, professor in the Department of Surgery and director of NYU Langone Transplant Institute.
Addressing a Growing Need
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more 30 million people in the United States have diabetes. Type 1 diabetes makes up about 5 percent of all diagnosed cases, though the prevalence is rising. The new pancreas transplantation program complements the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism’s excellence in diabetes care for children and adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“I’m thrilled to join NYU Langone to help develop the pancreas transplant program, which will provide services that can dramatically improve the quality of life of the sickest diabetes patients,” says Dr. Stewart Lewis. “Together, our team of transplant nephrologists and surgeons, endocrinologists, dieticians, social workers, and other specialists is committed to ensuring the best possible outcomes for our patients.”
When the pancreas—a large gland behind the stomach that serves to regulate blood sugar and helps the body break down and digest food—produces little or no insulin, as in people with type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to keep blood sugars in a normal range. This puts a person at risk for medical complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and premature death. For many of these people, pancreas transplant can be an effective treatment. In some cases a pancreas transplant can be offered to patients with type 2 diabetes.
Pancreas transplants occur most often in conjunction with kidney transplants for patients who have advanced kidney disease from their diabetes. These patients can either receive a simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplant or a pancreas from a deceased donor after receiving and recovering from a living donor kidney transplant.
In rare cases, diabetic patients without any kidney disease may qualify for a pancreas transplant alone due to life-threatening episodes of hypoglycemic unawareness, or dangerously low blood sugars that present no symptoms until the patient loses consciousness.
“A successful pancreas transplant can be life-changing for the right patient,” says Dr. Ali. “Not only does the kidney and pancreas transplant treat a patient’s advanced kidney disease—it’s also a cure for diabetes, which is a phenomenal improvement in the quality of life of patients who have struggled with disease management for many years.”