UMN to celebrate 50th anniversary of pancreatic transplant

The University will be hosting a conference in May to honor the event.

Cindy Simba

Since the 1960s, the University of Minnesota has performed the most pancreatic transplants in the world.

On May 19, the University will host a celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first successful pancreatic transplant in 1966. Doctors from around the world will attend, along with guest speakers from different universities.

The University has performed about 1,300 transplants since 1988 according to federal data. Worldwide, more than 30,000 have been performed.

”We remain leaders in that field,” said Dr. Raja Kandaswamy a University transplant surgeon.

The first pancreatic transplant patient was diabetic and became insulin-independent after the surgery.

Kandaswamy said the most common pancreatic transplant surgery is the pancreatic kidney transplant, which is administered to patients who need both a kidney transplant and a new pancreas. This surgery has a success rate of 90 percent.

Among the guests at the May event will be David E.R. Sutherland of the University of Minnesota, who Kandaswamy called the “father of this field.”

Family members of Richard Lillehei, a surgeon for the first transplant, will also attend. Fredrick Merkel, who was in the operating room during the first transplant, will also be there.

The typical age of people who get the transplants is between 35 and 40, with an equal percentage of men and women. The surgery has benefited thousands of diabetics, some of whom also face kidney failure.

The need for pancreatic transplants has stayed level over the past decade. Dr. Kandaswamy said new technologies that allow patients to avoid a transplant exist, but none are yet clinically-approved, so a new pancreas is still the only option for insulin therapy.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how many pancreas transplants are performed at the University. The school has performed about 1,300 since 1988.