About Tissue Donation

Donation of Musculoskeletal Tissue

Often more effective than artificial alternatives, bone and other musculoskeletal grafts can make reconstruction of orthopaedic defects more feasible and hasten the recovery time for many procedures. The use of these grafts is life transforming where patients limited in movement and unable to undertake tasks previously taken for granted (e.g. walking) regain full mobility and the freedom to return to active and normal lives.

The musculoskeletal tissue which can be donated include;

  • bone including the femoral head (hip), tibia and femur (leg), humerus (upper arm), iliac crest (pelvis), hemi-pelvis and rib,
  • tendons including the Achilles tendon (heel), patella tendon (front of knee) and anterior tibialis tendon (foot),
  • meniscus (fibrocartilage cushion in the knee joint),
  • and fascia lata (strong connective tissue surrounding muscle from the side of the leg).

Bone is the second most transplanted tissue in the world, second only to blood transfusions.

Donated tendons and ligaments are used to replace torn or irreparably damaged ligaments, often through sports injuries (e.g. ruptured cruciate ligaments). Usually the recipient can return to normal active duties and many professional sports people have been able to return to their sport as a result of these implants.

Meniscal grafts are used to replace the damaged meniscus (the cushion within the knee joint) in the recipient and are most commonly used in patients who have previous injury (e.g. sport) or surgery, resulting in damage to their meniscal tissue. Meniscal transplants help restore normal anatomy and provide pain-free stability in the knee of the recipient, allowing the recipient to return to normal physical activity.

One notable ligament recipient is Olympic Gold Medallist, skiing champion Alisa Camplin (left). She refers to her donated tendon as ‘Angel’ and is eternally grateful to the donor and their family for their generosity at such a difficult and sad time.

Donation of Heart Valves

Donated human heart valves have many advantages over artificial or animal alternatives. They are more resistant to infection and mean the recipient does not need to go onto blood thinners which can be especially dangerous in the young and may make pregnancy impossible. Silent (unlike the ticking of mechanical valves) and as close as possible to normal function, they enable the patient to live a normal life. Donated heart valves are used to repair congenital defects in babies who could die without surgery and to replace diseased aortic valves in adults.

Donation of Corneal Tissue

Corneal transplantation offers the only hope for some people to see. The cornea is the clear outer ‘window’ of the front of the eye. If it becomes diseased or damaged, the person’s vision deteriorates, often as far as complete blindness. There are no artificial equivalents to replace a damaged or diseased cornea. Donated corneas have made it possible for many blind or partially blind people to regain or improve their sight.

The Lions Corneal Donation Service is responsible for the recovery of corneas in the state of Victoria. The Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria facilitates the corneal donation process by obtaining consent from families of multi-tissue donors on behalf of the Lions Corneal Donation Service.

Donation of Skin Tissue

The development of skin banking at DTBV, which was initially funded by Esso Australia, has been providing life saving treatment for burn victims across Australasia. The DTBV has been able to respond to victims for many years who have been severely burnt in house or car fires to explosions, bombings and more recently the local bushfires in Victoria. Skin is the best dressing to use on serious burns, particularly where more than 50% of the body surface is affected (quite often in children) making autografting (transplant of the patients own good skin to the affected areas) very difficult. The use of allograft skin stabilises the wounds, reduces infection and critical fluid loss, promotes healing of the wound bed and makes the patient far more comfortable. With time bought with the use of donor skin, the patients own skin can be cultured in the laboratory and applied to the patient for later grafting. Long term scarring is very much reduced with the use of donor skin. Donated skin undoubtedly saves lives and improves long term outcomes.