While there always seems to be talk about organ transplants or blood donations, tissues can also be donated to save lives. Learn what these transplants are and how they work.
Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between organs and tissues when it comes to transplants. The Organización Nacional de Trasplantes (National Transplant Organization) of Spain explains that organ transplants need blood in order to function, which is why they are so urgent when there is a donor as the organ must be connected to the recipient’s veins and arteries.
Tissue transplants, however, do not need to be connected. Their blood supply comes from small vessels that are impossible to attach manually and, instead, develop over time once the tissue has been transplanted. With regard to time, tissue transplants are therefore more flexible. They can also remain outside of the donor longer than organs before reaching the recipient, making the process less urgent.
According to Donate Life, the official Unite States donation registration organization, some of the tissues that can be donated include:
- The cornea: This is the hemispheric and transparent membrane that covers the eye. Diseases, accidents or infections may lead to a person needing a transplant. Almost anyone can be a donor, regardless of age or condition.
- The entire eye: In addition to the cornea, the entire eye can also be transplanted for reconstructive or cosmetic surgeries. This tissue is also highly valued for medical research.
- Veins and arteries: Veins return the blood from the extremities to the heart and arteries transport oxygenated blood from the heart to the extremities. These types of transplants are common when a person has circulatory issues and are used in coronary artery bypass surgeries.
- Bones: The bones of the arms (humerus, ulna and radius) are used in transplants to avoid amputation or to restore a patient’s mobility.
- The connective tissues of the bones: Ligaments, cartilage and tendons are used to treat patients with orthopedic and neurological conditions.
- The heart valves: When it is not feasible to perform an entire organ transplant, individual valves can be recovered to replace those that do not function in patients with specific conditions or age-related diseases.
- The skin: Skin transplants are used to treat patients that have burns or serious wounds. Skin implants help prevent infection and help regenerate the growth of the affected patient’s own skin.