Which Body Parts Can We Transplant, And Which We Cannot

body parts can we transplant

In 2015, a total of more than 126 thousand organ transplants were performed in the world. This is an average of 14.5 transplants per hour.

In the vast majority of cases, it was a question of transplanting parts of the body necessary for the continuation of life. Most (41.8%) were kidney transplants, followed by the liver and heart.

In recent years, the number of transplants of the lungs, pancreas and small intestine is also growing.

Doctors learned to transplant not only organs, but also various tissues. Transplants of bone marrow, tendons, cornea of the eye, skin, heart valves, nerves and veins are quite common.

However, many parts of the body still cannot be replaced. Which and why?


Head transplantation is impossible - and hardly possible in the foreseeable future.

“We need to focus on achievable things. Over the past 50 years, we have achieved a lot in transplanting any part of the body below the neck,” said Gabriel Onisku, transplant consultant at the Royal Hospital of Edinburgh and Secretary of the European Organ Transplant Society.

Lorna Mason, a transplant surgeon and president of the British Transplant Society, agrees with him. After all, the goal of doctors is to save the life of as many people as possible, so you need to choose the most realistic options.

In addition to the obvious philosophical debate (whether the brain is transplanted into the body or the body is transplanted to the brain?), The main difficulty of this type of operation was the problem of connecting the brain to the spinal cord.

Most transplant operations face the problem of successfully connecting blood vessels, but the spinal cord, which is responsible for movement, is a network of highly specialized nerve cells called neurons.

The spinal cord is a network of nerve cells.

Cells of this type transmit information using electrical and chemical signals, and if they are damaged, it will be impossible to replace them or bind them together again.

This explains why today serious spinal cord injuries often remain incurable.

Dr. Mason says that in the event of an injury or damage to the brain due to illness, there are more realistic options — such as replacing cells where possible.

Scientists are developing cell therapy, which in some cases will allow neurons to regenerate and develop.

Cell therapy can stop, and in some cases even reverse, the development of a degenerative disease of brain tissue, says Dr. Mason. Treatment of this kind can help patients with dementia or multiple sclerosis.


The retina is located at the back of the eyeball and is responsible for converting light into a visible image

Although successful corneal transplantation operations have been carried out for several decades, it is still impossible to transplant the retina - the inside of the eyeball, which allows us to see objects and images.

This part of the body, again, includes many branched neural connections, so that transplantation of such a complex neural structure remains outside the scope of modern technical capabilities.

And although the list of completely impossible transplants is limited to these two bodies, there are transplant operations that have not yet become commonplace for surgeons.

Gall bladder

After any transplant surgery, the patient will have to spend the rest of his life on immunosuppressive drugs that will avoid rejection of the new organ, and in the case of the gall bladder, its just not worth it.

“Any transplant is a balance between the patient’s good and the inevitable consequences: recovery from such an operation and the need to take medicine for the rest of your life,” explains Lorna Mason.

The gall bladder, which is green in this model, is a useful but not vital organ, says Dr. Gabriel Onisku

The gallbladder is located under the liver and contains bile - a fluid that is secreted into the small intestine and helps digestion. It simplifies your life, but is not vital.

Its like an appendix. If stones form regularly in the gallbladder or if it is affected by a disease, it’s healthier to remove it. We can live well without it, says Dr. Onisku.

In this case, the patient is recommended to change the diet and lifestyle in order to simplify digestion.


Dr. Onisku says the spleen is a slightly different case, as it is an organ that filters, repairs and preserves red blood cells. But at the same time, according to him, the spleen is also not necessary to maintain life, so the same principle applies to it.

After removing the spleen, the patient must take antibiotics all his life - but, again, the whole thing is balance and that is more effective for the patient.

Removal and antibiotics are a lower risk than undergoing a transplant operation and taking medications for the rest of your life to avoid rejection, Mason assures.

The focus will always be on those parts of the body that support life, however, says Dr. Onisku, the organs are transplanted for some reason, this should satisfy the patients needs.

“Thats why we, for example, do a uterus transplant,” he explains. “You can live without this organ, but the patient may feel that she will not fulfill her life’s destiny if she does not have children. A uterus transplant will satisfy the needs of this particular patient

Doctors are confident that in the future, patients will be able to be helped not only through traditional organ transplant surgeries - such as a liver, heart or lung - but also through cell regeneration and transplantation.

“An ideal example is a transplant of Langerhans islet cells for diabetes,” Dr. Onisku says, referring to tiny clusters of cells that secrete insulin. “To solve the problem, we transplant cells from the pancreas, not the whole gland.”

Stem cell transplant may be an alternative to organ transplant

As demand grows, doctors are exploring more complex treatment strategies that go beyond organ transplantation and cell therapy - and transplantation is increasingly complemented by regenerative medicine, new technologies, and bioengineering.

Onisku says: We study artificial organs, that is, organs that are restored using stem cells, and probably even organs grown in a different environment are xenografts. This is the name of donor organs or tissues of animal origin, as well as human organs grown in the body of an animal for subsequent transplantation to humans.

Mason draws attention to the fact that the success of the transplant comes down to the results of teamwork and the contribution of a huge team of experts.

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