Doctors transplant a whole eye for the first time
A fatal electric shock destroyed a man’s face. Now doctors in New York have made him the first person to have a donor eye inserted. The doctors’ hopes are high and the patient is happy.
cAmerican surgeons have transplanted a complete human eye for the first time in the world. The 21-hour operation in May went well, said NYU Langone Health, a medical center affiliated with New York University.
It’s unclear if Aaron James, 46, will ever be able to see in his donor’s left eye. However, he is well supplied with blood and appears remarkably healthy. “He feels good,” James said. However, he still cannot move his eyes or eyelids.
To date, only corneal transplantation to the front of the eye is a common procedure to treat certain types of vision loss. The transplant of the entire eye, that is, the eyeball, its blood supply and the optic nerve that connects it to the brain, is considered a milestone in the medical fight against blindness.
James’ surgery gives scientists unprecedented insight into the healing process of the human eye. He does not claim that his equipment can restore the patient’s vision, said Dr. Eduardo Rodríguez, chief of plastic surgery at New York University, who led the transplant. “But I have no doubt that we are one step further.”
You have to start somewhere, “there has to be a first person somewhere,” added James, who comes from the state of Arkansas. Maybe the doctors learned something from his case “that will help the next person.”
Doctors praised the transplant. “This is a big deal,” said Kia Washington, a professor of surgery at the University of Colorado. Considering the time that has passed since the operation, she does not assume that the patient will one day be able to see with her eyes. “But I never say anything is impossible.”
Daniel Peláez, from the University of Miami, spoke of a “key moment” in attempts to restore sight to humans. “This gives hope to many people around the world.”
The man was working for an electrical company in June 2021 when he was involved in an accident with high-voltage power lines. Doctors were able to save his life, but much of his face was destroyed. In addition to his left eye, James lost his nose, lips and left arm.
Before the operation, surgeons hoped that the insertion of a new eye would have a cosmetic effect by supporting the eye socket and eyelid.
Doctors are also investigating how the optic nerve could be restored, for example through gene therapy. Research is also underway to see if a connection between the eye and the brain could be established without passing through the destroyed optic nerve. “We are making great progress in treatments to achieve optic nerve regeneration that could accompany eye transplantation,” said Jeffrey Goldberg of Stanford University.