Bereaved families asked to donate for reconstructive surgery The University of Hong Kong has made an urgent appeal for bereaved families to donate the bones of their loved ones to ease a severe shortage at its 'bone bank'. Human bones are used in certain reconstructive surgery. But Kenneth Ho Wai-yip, an orthopaedic specialist from the university, said the university received bones from only two donors last year - and there were no donations at all in 2002 and 2003. He warned that the university's bone bank would run out of stock soon. Dr Ho, honorary clinical assistant professor of the department of orthopaedics and traumatology, said that due to the lack of donated pelvises, he had used artificial bones on one of his patients a few months ago, even though the artificial substitute was more costly and medically less desirable. Dr Ho said that the two precious sets of bones donated last year could not even be used, because Shenzhen authorities have imposed a ban on bone tissue from Hong Kong receiving necessary sterilisation across the border. The Shenzhen authorities suddenly suspended the long-standing sterilisation arrangement in December without explanation. Hong Kong lacks the irradiation equipment used in the process. A Health, Welfare and Food Bureau spokesman said they were still 'liaising with the relevant authorities [in Shenzhen] with a view to resolving the problem as soon as possible.' Dr Ho said the university might send representatives to the mainland to help resolve the matter if the government failed to persuade Shenzhen to restart sterilisations soon. Dr Ho said that the two sets of donated bones would not necessarily be wasted, since they could be kept for up to three years. Bones can be preserved indefinitely after they are sterilised, according to the professor. The HKU bone bank serves Queen Mary Hospital, its teaching hospital. Hong Kong's only other bone bank is at the Prince of Wales Hospital, the teaching hospital for Chinese University. Dr Ho said that although artificial bones could be used in some procedures, human hones were preferred as they were five times cheaper and helped recovery. 'The cells inside human bones can stimulate the bone tissues to grow and recover by themselves, unlike the artificial substances,' he explained. Independent legislator Kwok Ka-ki, deputy chairman of the Legco health services panel, said public education should be improved to promote donations. 'Many people remain reluctant to donate the organs of their loved ones which however are life-saving, such as livers and kidneys, not to mention bones.'