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Bones and cartilage

Bones are the main supporting frame for our body. The cartilage-covered joints give us freedom of movement. Some bones have specific functions; for example, cranial bones protect the brain and ossicles transmit sound to the inner ear. Other bones contain bone marrow, which is essential to ensuring the constant supply of blood cells.

Bone and cartilage transplants are mostly taken from deceased donors (allogeneic transplantation). Living donations are either made from the femoral heads of patients who have been given an artificial hip joint or tissue which is grafted onto another part of the patient’s own body (autogeneic transplantation).

Replacement materials, either of animal origin (xenographs, mostly from deproteinized bovine bones) or synthetic materials, are also available for bones. Various synthetic products are used, particularly in dental medicine.

Medical conditions that may lead to transplantation

Transplantation is necessary when there is insufficient intact bone matter. This can happen following multiple or complicated bone fractures, after a bone infection, a tumour operation or when replacing an artificial joint. Bone transplants are also regularly used in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery. The more severe the case, the greater the need for allogeneic donor transplants.

Cartilage transplantations are mainly performed autologically on the knee and ankle joints. The main causes of cartilage defects are wear and tear (arthrosis) caused by injury, inappropriate weight bearing, inflammation (arthritis) and sometimes genetic diseases.

Some cartilage cells can be directly transplanted to the defective spot from a position in the joint which is exposed to less strain, or they are augmented outside the body prior to transplantation.

In Switzerland, between 200 and 300 allogeneic bone transplants are performed every year. Autogeneic transplantations and operations with synthetic and animal material are not recorded throughout Switzerland.