Health Team

New surgery could give pancreatitis patients a more normal life

Posted May 28, 2018 12:49 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2018 5:08 p.m. EDT

— A new surgery gives some patients with pancreatitis an alternative to becoming dependent on insulin by transferring the function of the pancreas into the liver.

In 2015, at the age of 18, Magnolia Long had learned to manage her Cystic Fibrosis. However, in a small number of CF patients, another problem occurs.

"I had nausea, and I had this really bad pain in my stomach -- I really didn't know what was going on," said Long.

Long was diagnosed with pancreaticcystosis, where the pancreas gland becomes scarred and even calcified, which means it starts forming stones.

Long and her mother, Jean Roth, found UNC transplant surgeon Dr. Chirag Desai, who gave them an alternative to removing Long's pancreas, which would leave her insulin dependent.

"This surgery was the only thing that gave her an option for a normal life," said Roth.

The pancreas is a vital gland that secretes enzymes to help digest food and hormones that control blood sugar. UNC is now the only center in the state that offers not only removal of the pancreas, but also a special transplant to retain pancreatic functions.

In the innovative procedure, after the pancreas is removed, it is taken to a separate site where it is dissolved in enzymes and only "islet" cells survive. If they are transplanted into the liver, they resume the duties of the pancreas.

"As soon as you put the cells in the liver, they start functioning right away," said Dr. Desai.

"Honestly, the moment I woke up, I felt better," said Long. "I had some surgical pain, but I felt this immense pressure off my stomach."

Dr. Desai has plans to start trials in the future to see if some type1 diabetics might benefit from the transplant.