Thyroid glands often have to be removed in the case of tumours or other abnormal growths pushing up into the throat.
The operation affects many more women than men, a ratio of about nine to one, because abnormalities often appear after childbirth or during the menopause.
The patient then has to take a daily dose of thyroid replacement hormone and can suffer serious consequences if he forgets to take it.
''We think that putting back just one tiny piece of healthy gland in another part of the body can restore thyroid function,'' Rocco Bellantone of Rome's Catholic University told the Italian Surgical Society.
Bellantone's team said recent tests with pigs had been ''very promising''.
''We removed the thyroid of 13 pigs and carried out a 'self-transplant' into the animals' abdomens.
''The transplanted tissue settled into the hosting muscle and started synthesising thyroid hormone, ensuring a steady supply of hormones even though it was in a different part of the body''.