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Transplantation of Other Tissues


Martin Hertl

, MD, PhD, Rush University Medical Center

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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Tissue transplantation is the removal of various tissues, such as skin cells, corneas, cartilage, or bone, from a body and then inserting that tissue into the same or another person who has a serious disorder affecting some of that type of tissue.


Skin grafts can be used in people who have lost large areas of skin—for example, because of extensive burns. Skin grafting is most successful when healthy skin is removed from one part of the body and grafted to another part. When such grafting is not possible, skin from a donor or even from animals (such as pigs) or synthetic skin can be used as a temporary measure. Such grafts last only a short time, but they can provide temporary protection until normal skin grows to replace them.

The amount of skin available for grafting may be increased by growing small pieces of the person’s skin in a tissue culture or by making many tiny cuts in the grafted skin, so that it can be stretched to cover a much larger area.


Cartilage is usually used to repair birth defects in the ears or nose of children. In adults, it can be used to repair joints damaged by injury or by arthritis.

Cartilage may be transplanted successfully without the use of drugs to suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants). The body’s immune system attacks transplanted cartilage much less vigorously than other tissues.


Corneas, the transparent domes on the surface of the eyes, can usually be transplanted successfully without the use of immunosuppressants.


Bone from one part of the body can be used to replace bone in another part—for example, to replace bone removed during surgery for bone cancer.

Bone transplanted from one person to another survives only a short time. However, it stimulates growth of new bone, stabilizes the area until new bone can form, and provides a framework for new bone to fill in.

Immunosuppressants are not needed after bone transplantation.

More than one tissue

Some transplants contain more than one tissue (called composite transplants, such as hand, arm, or face transplants). Composite transplants may include skin, muscle, bone, and tissues that connect and support these structures.

Composite transplantation is controversial because it typically is not needed to preserve life and does not extend it, although it may greatly improve quality of life. Composite transplantation is also very expensive, requires many resources, and may result in sometimes life-threatening infections. These procedures are not considered standard medical care.

How well the transplanted parts function varies widely, but some recipients of a hand transplant are able to use the hand to do their usual daily activities.

Immunosuppressants are required after transplantation.

Other tissues

In Parkinson disease, transplanting tissue from a person’s adrenal glands to that person’s brain appears to relieve symptoms, as does transplanting brain tissue from aborted fetuses. However, use of tissue from aborted fetuses is controversial.

Transplantation of thymus glands from stillborn infants into children who are born without a thymus gland (a disorder called DiGeorge syndrome) may help restore the immune system in these children. When the thymus gland is missing, the immune system is impaired because white blood cells, which are a vital part of the immune system’s defense against foreign substances, mature in the thymus gland. However, the new thymus may produce cells that attack the recipient’s cells, causing severe graft-versus-host disease.


Reattaching a Body Part

Reattaching a body part is not actually transplantation.

If fingers, hands, and arms are relatively undamaged after being severed from the body, they can sometimes be reattached successfully. Reattachment of legs is less successful.

The severed part is kept clean and dry and is put in a plastic bag and placed on ice until it can be used. Prompt reattachment is crucial so that the blood supply to the severed part can be restored.

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