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What is an Autograft?

By Caitlin Kenney
Updated May 17, 2024
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An autograft is tissue that is transplanted from one part of the body to another part of the same body. This is also known as an autologous graft, meaning the donor of the tissue and the recipient of the tissue are the same. Grafting is a surgical procedure in which a tissue or organ is transplanted, or attached to a damaged, missing, or defective part of the body. If the graft goes well, the transplanted tissue integrates with the body and is served by the recipient’s blood supply.

Though people usually think of skin grafting, several types of tissue can be grafted, including bone, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, and eye materials. In addition to the autograft, a patient may receive an allograft, isograft, or a xenograft. An allograft uses tissue transplanted from a donor in one species to another body in the same species, as in bone from one human to another human. An isograft uses tissue from a genetically identical donor, like a monzygotic twin. In a xenograft, the donor and the recipient are from different species, such as pig cartilage donated to a human.

An autograft typically deals with skin, bone, and blood vessel transplants. Using tissue from one’s own body is often safer and heals more quickly than grafts from another donor. In emergency situations, an autograft is recommended, when possible, because the patient does not have to go through screening to ensure the donor tissue will be compatible. As this procedure removes from tissue from one part of the body in order to attach it to another location, autotransplants create two recovery sites, which can lengthen hospital stays and increase patient discomfort.

During a skin autograft, skin tissue is typically removed from a less visible part of the body, such as the inner thigh or buttocks. Skin grafts are used to decrease a patient’s healing time, if a substantial portion of skin is missing or damaged, and to improve the patient’s appearance by minimizing scarring or deformity. Usually, only a thin layer of skin is removed from the donor site and grafted to the recipient site, but sometimes thicker layers will be used. Thicker grafts pose greater risks for complications, but create less scarring in the recipient portion of the body.

Bone grafts take bone from a donor site and fill in gaps in broken, chipped, or deformed bones. Doctors often use an allograft, typically from a dead, frozen bone, instead of an autograft in bone grafting because of the high risk of morbidity in donor sites. Autografts, however, are useful in eliciting a healing response from the recipient bone, thus improving recovery.

In bypass surgery, a blood vessel autograft is usually used to replace a section of a vital artery. For example, in bypass surgeries, doctors graft veins or arteries from other parts of the body to replace blocked sections of important arteries, such as the coronary artery. The donor vessels often come from the leg or the wall of the inner chest.

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