Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi at Al Marya Island. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: A young woman in her twenties with Type 1 diabetes has becomes the first person to receive a pancreatic transplant in the UAE.

The patient also received a kidney transplant in the five-hour procedure conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD). The dual transplant is expected to treat the patient’s kidney failure, while the new pancreas will eliminate her reliance on insulin injections, the hospital said in a statement on Monday. Hailed as a transplant milestone, the procedure was performed in November, and the hospital statement said its success offers fresh hope for Type 1 diabetics with significant complications.

Insulin-dependent diabetes

People with Type 1 diabetes, often known as insulin-dependent diabetes, produce little or no insulin on their own, and are therefore dependent on injections to manage their blood sugar levels. Some may even go on to develop complications like kidney failure, as in the case of the patient who received the UAE’s first pancreatic transplant. 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 presents during childhood, and affects around five per cent of all diabetics worldwide.

Dr. Luis Campos

“The introduction of pancreas transplantation in the UAE has the potential to significantly change lives for the better. 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,” said Dr. Luis Campos, the surgeon who led the transplant operation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

100th organ transplant

The rare, dual organ transplant marked CCAD’s 100th organ transplant since the introduction of transplant services in 2017. The hospital is still the only multi-organ transplant centre in the UAE, with its surgical teams previously having performed kidney, heart, lung and liver transplants.

The CCAD also added that it is one of only a small number of facilities globally with the expertise, facilities and training to be able to perform pancreatic transplants. The operation requires detailed planning, and the input of a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, endocrinologists, social workers, nurses and allied health professionals. “Pancreas transplants are very complex operations that require a great deal of evaluation before the surgery can take place. 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 that they require a transplant, combining the procedure with a pancreas transplant can really change their life, allowing them to eat and drink normally, without worrying about their blood sugar levels,” Dr Campos explained.

Since undergoing surgery, the young patient has continued to recover well, and her body is able to produce insulin for the first time in more than 20 years, effectively ending her status as a Type 1 diabetic. The CCAD said transplant recipients receive close monitoring in the first weeks and months following their operation as they resume their normal lives.