The best new implants may be a piece of you

The future of medicine is often imagined to include some sort of high-tech or shiny device. But many cutting-edge therapies are fundamentally about using and improving upon what the body already has. There’s CAR T therapy that uses engineered versions of the body’s own immune cells to fight cancer. And for patients needing surgical interventions, there is autologous surgery.

Stacy Haley standing near a vase of flowers holding out an arm.
HUP patient Stacy Haley received free-flap reconstruction surgery after receiving a double mastectomy. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

Autologous surgery, implanting a patient with something taken from their own body instead of implanting a synthetic material or one from another donor, is continuing to be a go-to technique in various areas of surgical medicine.

“I’ve been placing autologous slings for 12 years,” says Ariana Smith, a professor of urology and the director of Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine. “They offer patients peace of mind because they know the material being used to address their health concern is literally a piece of them.”

For patients with stress urinary incontinence (a leakage of urine during physical movement such as laughing or sneezing) and pelvic organ prolapse (when the tissue and muscles of the pelvic floor no longer support the pelvic organs), a longstanding method has used surgical mesh—a piece of synthetic material surgically placed to reinforce the vaginal wall or support the urethra or neck of the bladder. Those tissues can weaken overtime due to childbirth, injury, weight gain, and in some cases, surgical complications. While mesh, placed carefully by an experienced surgeon, may be a suitable and successful implant for many patients, autologous surgery is an alternative.

“When properly trained surgeons use and have used mesh with the right kind of patients, risks of these dangerous events decreases substantially,” Smith says. “At Penn Urology, we use approved mesh in certain situations and when patients have been appropriately counseled on the risks and benefits. But we also receive countless referrals from around the region to treat patients who have had complications from mesh surgery and who may benefit from an autologous sling or prolapse surgery.”

This story is by Alex Gardner. Read more at Penn Medicine News.