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What is a Tissue Graft?

Burn victims commonly receive skin grafts.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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A tissue graft is a medical procedure in which tissue from a donor is used to replace missing or damaged tissue on a patient. Numerous type of human tissue can be used including veins, skin, tendons, bone, and ocular materials. One of the most common types of tissue graft is a skin graft for a burn victim, but other patients can benefit from tissue donation as well. Because the surgery which accompanies this type of graft is often invasive, the patient will have to take antibiotics and observe special precautions until the surgical site heals.

In an autograft, donor tissue is taken directly from the patient. Autografts are frequently carried out with skin, which can be removed from the thigh and used elsewhere on the body. This type of tissue graft tends to absorb more quickly into the body, although the patient will have to take care of two recovery sites, the grafted site and the donor site, until he or she heals. In an emergency situation, an autograft is often the graft of choice, if it is possible, because the tissue does not have to be processed for safety.

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An allograft is a tissue graft using materials donated from someone else. In most cases, this uses materials recovered from a deceased person. Typically, the deceased has indicated a desire to donate organs or tissues, and his or her family consent to the procedure. The cadaver is treated exactly like a regular patient in surgery, to ensure the utmost respect and to create a sterile environment. Tissues are harvested from the cadaver and processed in clean laboratories before being placed in storage.

When cadaver tissues are processed, they are tested for potential pathogens and cleaned. Technicians carefully label the tissue parts and place them into sterile bags which are then sealed. Stored under subzero temperatures, tissue products can keep for quite a long time.

When a patient requires a tissue graft, it is either because of an emergency like a severed tendon or serious burn, or due to a degenerative condition. The doctor may discuss several options with the patient, and if the decision to graft is taken, the patient is prepared for surgery. Typically, the patient needs to take prophylactic antibiotics to ensure that infection does not set in at the graft site. The patient is given an anesthetic or put under general anesthesia, depending on the procedure, and the tissue graft is performed. Afterwards, it is of the utmost importance that the patient continue taking antibiotics and keep the graft site clean.

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