Surgeons at NYU Langone Health in New York have successfully performed the world’s first whole eye transplant on Aaron James, a 46-year-old military veteran from Arkansas. Mr. James, who suffered severe facial injuries and the loss of his left eye in a high-voltage electrical accident, underwent a 21-hour surgery that included a partial face transplant in addition to the eye transplant.
The surgery, led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez and involving over 140 healthcare professionals, aimed to not only enhance the cosmetic outcome of the face transplant but also explore the possibility of restoring vision through the whole eye transplant.
Mr. James, a high-voltage utility line worker, had sustained facial injuries, including the loss of his left eye, when he accidentally touched a 7,200-volt live wire in 2021.
On May 27, 2023, Mr. James underwent the transformative surgery, which involved replacing half of his face and transplanting an entire eye from a single male donor in his 30s.
The donated face and eye were connected to Mr. James, with surgeons injecting adult stem cells from the donor’s bone marrow into the optic nerve to repair.
While there is no certainty that Mr. James will regain vision in his new eye, doctors are encouraged by the signs of health, including direct blood flow to the retina, detected during the post-surgery examinations.
Dr. Rodriguez addresses that the surgery provides an opportunity to understand how the human eye attempts to heal, offering insights that could pave the way for future advancements in vision restoration.
Mr. James, currently the 19th person in the US to undergo a face transplant, is recovering well, and his progress is described as exceptional by transplant surgeon Dr. Bruce E. Gelb.
The surgery not only aims to improve Mr. James’s quality of life but also serves as an experiment that may contribute to the development of new medical approaches.
In an interview, Mr. James expressed gratitude for the surgery and acknowledged the impact on the field of medicine.
He mentioned that while personal sight restoration would be welcomed, the significance lies in advancing medical knowledge and helping future patients facing similar challenges.
His positive outlook and willingness to contribute to medical progress highlight the optimism that often accompany medical procedures.
Dr. Rodriguez acknowledges the challenges involved in this surgery, addressing that while they are not claiming immediate sight restoration, the successful transplantation of an entire eye is an achievement that has long been deemed unattainable.
The surgery has opened new possibilities for research and collaboration among scientists working on various methods to restore vision and address optic nerve regeneration.
Dr. José-Alain Sahel, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, notes the importance of regrowing the optic nerve and preserving corneal nerves for successful eye transplants.
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The surgery’s success has ignited hope and curiosity within the scientific community, spurring discussions on the next steps in research and investment in optic nerve and corneal regeneration.
Dr. Oren Tepper, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, describes the surgery as an advancement in face transplantation, highlighting its technical complexity and benefits for patients who have suffered eye loss due to trauma or cancer.
The surgical feat represents a major step forward in the field of transplant medicine, offering new possibilities for addressing vision loss and facial injuries through innovative approaches.
The whole-eye transplant has garnered global attention and recognition as a moment in medical history. Media outlets, including BBC News, CNN, and Sky News, have reported on the surgery, addressing its nature and the implications for millions of people worldwide experiencing vision impairment.
The surgery’s success offers an opportunity to study the human eye’s healing process and explore innovative approaches to nerve regeneration.
Dr. Rodriguez highlighted the importance of collaboration with scientists working on different methods of restoring vision.
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