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What is Autologous?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Autologous is usually accompanied by other words like transplant, graft or transfusion. The word means from the person’s own body or originating from the same body. Essentially an autologous procedure is one where part of the person’s body, and this could be as tiny stem cells, are used as part of a procedure for that person. It is medicine’s way of using what the person has to address a medical need.

One very common type of autologous procedure is the autologous blood transfusion. For a number of different reasons, conscious or physically, a person might not be able to have a blood transfusion from someone else. In these instances, prior to a surgery, the person’s blood could be collected or during a surgery or procedure it might be salvaged. It is then retransfused into the body as needed.

This method of transfusion could be employed when a person appears to be rejecting all other types of blood. Alternately, some people have religious prescriptions against receiving the blood of others. The autologous transfusion could address these situations and make medical treatment possible. This form of transplant may also eliminate concerns about contagion that might be a risk with using someone else’s blood.

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Autologous stem cell transplant is another common form of treatment in certain types of bone marrow or blood cancers. Stem cells get collected from the patient’s body and are reintroduced at particular points, often in hope of creating normal bone marrow growth. One benefit to this strategy is that it eliminates the need to find matching donors.

Many surgeries take something from one part of the body and replace it elsewhere. Certain plastic surgeries might use part of a bone from somewhere else in the body to restructure or reshape a damaged area. Similarly, skin could be removed from a relatively obscure place and grafted onto scarred or damaged areas. This is very common; a simple mole removal could end up requiring a minor skin transplant to minimize scarring.

Sometimes autologous procedures are not safe or possible. In these cases, the medical solution is to get that part or tiny piece from someone or something else. For instance, typically it’s impossible to have an autologous heart valve replacement. Instead surgeons would use a cadaver valve from another human (allogenic) or an animal (xenograft or xenogenic). Alternately, “auto” procedures may not be the best medical choice if a person has health factors that would make requisitioning and reuse of a certain part of the body unsafe.

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