Plastic surgeons at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center have reportedly become first in the world to freeze and re-implant a complete limb on rats. The breakthrough achievement has just been published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

The advance could lead to “organ banking” of complex organs and tissues – perhaps even faces and whole hands – for reconstructive procedures.

Researchers at the plastic surgery lab at Sourasky’s Ichilov Hospital used two methods: slow freezing and vitrification – also known as cryopreservation, which solidifies without forming ice crystals – of a whole and complex organ. The achievement elicited great curiosity in the medical world, as the research success may lead to innovative technologies for the preservation of complex tissues, limbs and whole organs for future transplants.

A large number of transplants using hands and faces from foreign donors have been performed worldwide in recent years. This has created enormous potential for restoring quality of life to people with missing limbs or who need donor organs. However, limited availability of such organs and the need for immunosuppressive therapy to prevent rejection has limited face and hand transplants, and created a long queue for organ transplants in general.

Long-term preservation of organs in an organ bank could increase the availability of organs that are suitable aesthetically and functionally and may even improve immunological adaptation of tissues between donors and recipients.

The Sourasky research was a first step toward realizing that goal.