Tissue Bank FAQ’s

A tissue bank is a non profit establishment staffed with suitably qualified professionals who recover, screen, test, process, store and distribute human tissue acquired from donors using strict international guidelines for transplantation.


Eye Banks:

  • Johannesburg: Gauteng Cornea & Eye Bank
  • Cape Town: Eye Bank Foundation of SA
  • Durban: KZN Cornea & Eye Association

Cardio Vascular:

  • Bloemfontein: UFS Tissue Lab

Multi-Tissue Bank: (cornea, bone & tendon, skin, heart valve)

  • Pretoria: Centre for Tissue Engineering
  • Cape Town: Vitanova

An authorised tissue bank is fully qualified to screen, test, recover, process and distribute human tissue which is legally and respectfully obtained, is safe for transplantation and of a consistent high quality.

Screening: Donor screening is done to determine factors that may render the tissue unsuitable for transplantation. Donor suitability is initially assessed by means of a comprehensive screening process that includes the evaluation of the medical and social history and testing of blood and tissue samples.

During tissue recovery, a blood sample is collected from the donor and tested for infectious disease as well as harmful micro-organisms by a SANAS certified laboratory.
Tissue which is deemed not-suitable for transplantation is incinerated at the cost of the relevant tissue bank.

Recovery: To ensure high quality tissue, the procurement is done by dedicated skilled individuals in compliance with rigid recovery procedures. Recovery is accomplished by using surgically clean techniques that are usually performed in a non-operating room environment. Retrieval officers make use of prosthesis where necessary to ensure no disfigurement of the donor body.

Processing: The processing methods are designed to reduce contamination of the tissue through a variety of in-process measures. The processing and packaging of tissue is performed in a clean room environment. For certain tissues, this is followed by a sterilisation process by means of gamma radiation at an ISO certified facility.

Distribution: Due to the diverse nature of the various tissues, different guidelines apply in terms of distribution with build-in policies to ensure that allografts are distributed fairly, without favouritism or prejudice.

Eye tissue donation
A cornea and/or sclera donation facilitates corneal and sclera transplantation.
Donated eye tissue can prevent blindness and restore sight to people who are partially or completely blind due to corneal damage following a genetic condition, illness or injury.
Injuries such as being injured on duty, for example chemical burns in the eye, or object injuries due to a motor vehicle accident can cause severe damage to the cornea and create a desperate need for a corneal transplant.

Bone and tendon donation
Donated bone and tendons can be grafted to replace bone and ligaments that were lost as a result of disease, tumours or injury; restoring health and in some cases independence and mobility.
Bone and tendon transplants can also enhance fracture healing, strengthen hip and knee joint replacements, replace torn ligaments or repair spinal deformities. It can also save a limb in a person who has developed cancer and would otherwise be facing limb amputation.
Without these essential transplants, the recipients’ opportunity to lead normal, healthy and active lives would be impossible.

Heart tissue donation
When the heart is not suitable for transplantation, the organ may be donated and the aortic and pulmonary valves transplanted to correct a heart abnormality within another patient. Heart tissue donations are often used to repair congenital defects in young children and babies and to replace diseased valves in adults.
Whilst artificial valves and even certain animal valves can also be used, human heart tissue is preferable because it is more resistant to infection, and can enable the recipient to lead a life without the need for ‘chronic’ blood thinning medication. This factor makes human heart valves safer for women of childbearing age and allows children to lead normal active lives.

Skin donation
Only the very top outermost layer of skin (epidermis) is carefully removed from some areas of the donor’s body, to effectively treat burn victims. Uncontrolled veld and shack fires, hot water and chemical burns cause life threatening burn wounds to thousands of South Africans every year, most of which are children. Without donor skin burn victims suffer agonizing injuries and often face certain death.
Skin grafting has been medically recognised as the most effective way to minimise scarring and promote healing of severe burns. Children particularly need skin grafts as a small burn or scald can cover most of their body, and these skin grafts may be lifesaving. A burn patient suffering with severe burns may need repeated skin grafts from numerous donors until their burns heal sufficiently.
When skin is donated, only a very thin layer (similar to tissue paper) is removed and the area from which it is retrieved looks like a light graze.