ARKANSAS,USA - Surgeons have successfully carried out the world’s first whole eye transplant.
The procedure has been hailed as a breakthrough, even though patient Aaron James, 46, cannot see out of the transplanted eye.
In the six months since the surgery, which involved transplanting the entire left eye and parts of the face of a single donor, Mr James’s new eye has shown “remarkable” signs of health, including direct blood flow to the retina.
Mr James, a military veteran, said that while his “biggest hope” was that his vision would return with time, he also hoped his case would pave the way for further advances.
“If I can see out of it, that’s great. But if it’ll kick-start the next path in the medical field, then I’m all for it”, he told CNN.
Mr James, from Arkansas, was working as a high-voltage power lineman in Mississippi when his face accidentally touched a live wire in June 2021.
The 7,200-volt shock caused extensive injuries to Mr James’s face and left arm.
The 21-hour surgery, which was carried out in May, required the expertise of more than 140 surgeons.
Mr James, who is naturally blue-eyed, now has one blue eye and one brown eye.
Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, the director of the face transplant program at NYU Langone Health, said that the question of whether Mr James’s eyesight will be restored “remains unanswered”.
“A transplant of this kind has never been done, and transplants have a unique way to work, and even in face transplants, things have occurred that we would not have imagined. So, I’m hopeful,” he said.
“The mere fact that we transplanted an eye is a huge step forward, something that for centuries has been thought about, but it’s never been performed.”
The surgeons injected adult stem cells harvested from the donor’s bone marrow into the optic nerve during the transplant, hoping they would replace damaged cells and protect the nerve.
Mr James’s optic nerve was then connected to the donor eye.
To enable sight, there has to be communication between the brain and the eye.
Until now, doctors have only been able to transplant the cornea, the clear front layer of the eye.