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What Is an Autologous Graft?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated May 17, 2024
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An autologous graft is a type of graft, typically of skin or bone, that is harvested from one area of a patient and transplanted to another. Using the patient’s own tissue usually creates the best conditions for the graft to heal as there is less chance of rejection. One drawback to the autologous graft is that a donor site is created and that will have to heal as well. The donor site can sometimes take a long time to recover. This procedure is often used in reconstructive surgery.

A skin graft is the most common type of autologous graft. This procedure is employed when the patient has experienced severe burns or wounds. Skin cancers are often covered with skin grafts after the site of the cancer has been removed. The grafts also help to prevent invasion of the site by bacteria, as well as insensible water loss. This refers to water lost from the lungs, skin and feces.

An allograft is a surgical technique whereby the skin, bones or organs are donated from another person. This particular procedure works well when transplanting organs; however, when performing surgeries such as spinal fusion, it is recommended that autologous bone and tissue be used from the patient himself. This is because the graft has a greater chance of fusing.

Bone graft surgery, also called autologous bone graft surgery, is performed when the patient has experienced breaks or fractures in the bone and donor bone is needed to fill in defects. Sometimes bone can be harvested from a cadaver, but this bone is missing a few important properties, such as certain cells and proteins that help the grafted bone to grow. An autologous graft, or bone from the patient, is infused with these properties and as such is usually a better choice when it comes to this type of surgery. If there is insufficient bone to be grafted from the patient, cadaver bone can sometimes be mixed in with the patient’s bone and grafted in that way.

Autologous grafts are clearly beneficial to people who have suffered from physical trauma and disease; however, the technique is not without problems. Certain people are unable to donate autologous cells due to irradiation, or exposure to radiation, and necrosis. This refers to cells that have died due to disease or physical trauma. Cancer cells that have migrated from one part of the body to another also makes autologous graft harvesting problematic as the donor sites may not be viable.

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