WVU Medicine

WVU Cancer Institute performs West Virginia’s first pancreatic islet cell autotransplant

In a landmark achievement for pancreatic care in West Virginia, WVU Cancer Institute surgeons successfully performed the state’s first total pancreatectomy with pancreatic islet cell auto-transplant (TPIAT) procedure.  

This innovative surgery offers new hope for patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis. 

 Chronic pancreatitis is a challenging condition that causes progressive inflammation and scarring of the pancreas. This damage can significantly impair the production of digestive enzymes and hormones, leading to pain, malnutrition and diabetes. Traditional treatments for chronic pancreatitis often focus on managing symptoms, but TPIAT offers the potential for a more permanent solution.  

The procedure involved a multi-disciplinary team of Dr.  Brian Boone,  WVU Cancer Institute surgical oncologist, and Dr. Carl Schmidt,   WVU Cancer Institute Surgicial Oncology division chief; Dr. Shyam Thakkar,   WVU Medicine gastroenterologist; Dr. Jonathan Pratt,  WVU Medicine pain specialist; and Dr. Michael Russell,   WVU Medicine anesthesiologist.  

Kayla Ringer, 36, of Shadyside, Ohio, suffered from genetic pancreatitis caused by two gene mutations that resulted in recurrent acute pancreatitis. Her physicians performed advanced imaging and endoscopically placed stents to help the pancreas drain. When the procedures failed to alleviate her symptoms, she contacted the WVU Cancer Institute team about the possibility of having a pancreatic islet cell autotransplantation.   

“I had a lot of pain and nausea and had to make multiple trips to the emergency room for pancreatitis,” Ringer said. “It was difficult to do my everyday things and take care of my three children. Food was a huge trigger, and I would avoid eating as part of recovering from a flare.” 

Ringer said she knew she would have to advocate for herself to find a treatment that would be curative. She extensively researched and read medical journals before meeting  Thakkar, who worked with her to determine the possibility of TPIAT, bringing in Boone and others to coordinate logistics, insurance coverage, and a surgical plan.  

The procedure first involved using the robotic surgical platform to remove the entire pancreas to treat her pancreatitis and prevent future attacks. In removing the pancreas, the patient is unable to make insulin to control blood glucose levels. Surgeons packaged the pancreas much like an organ transplant would be transported, and it was taken to a facility in the region to harvest the islet cells.  

When the islet cells were brought back to WVU Medicine, the patient was taken back to the operating room to have the cells infused into her liver. Once engrafted, the transplanted islet cells can resume hormone production, potentially helping to control the patient’s blood glucose levels and alleviating severe diabetes. 

Ringer’s symptoms resolved after the removal of her pancreas, resulting in significant improvement in her quality of life.  

“We are incredibly proud to be the first in West Virginia to offer this life-changing procedure,” Boone said. “TPIAT represents a significant advancement in treating chronic pancreatitis, offering a potential long-term solution for patients who have exhausted other treatment options.”  

Ringer is recovering at home after a short post-surgical hospital stay and said she is feeling better than expected.  

“I want to thank my medical team from the bottom of my heart. They have changed my life for the better,” Ringer said.  

“This is one time that being your own advocate worked. I never thought that everything would work out so well for me. I am very, very fortunate. I hope that going forward, they can do this procedure to help other people with conditions like mine. I could have never anticipated such a good outcome.” 

For more information on the WVU Cancer Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Cancer. For more information on WVU Medicine, visit WVUMedicine.org.