American surgeons announced a world first on Thursday, November 9: they succeeded in transplanting a complete eye into a patient who was the victim of a work accident. For the moment, the patient has not regained his sight, but the surgical prowess deserves to be highlighted.
The operation took place five months ago but we only learned about it yesterday: a team of American surgeons from the New York university hospital NYU Langone Health, led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, plastic surgeon responsible for the facial transplant program, successfully transplanted a complete eye into a 46-year-old patient.
A complete left eye transplant carried out last May
The operation took place on May 27 and lasted 21 hours. Five months later, the surgeons can congratulate themselves on their prowess and officially communicate about the operation. The patient’s left eye is functioning well and has blood flow to the retina.
Results which leave the specialists “stunned”, to use the words of Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who oversaw the procedure. According to him, “There are millions of people who have lost their sight, and we’re not saying we’re going to solve that today. But we’re definitely one step closer.”.
Victim of a serious accident at work
The patient is a 46-year-old American, Aaron James, victim of a work accident which could have cost him his life. Indeed, the man, living in Arkansas and former American soldier, was electrocuted in June 2021 at 7,200 volts while working on a high voltage line.
Due to this accident, Aaron James lost his left eye, but also his nose, his mouth, part of his chin, his teeth and his left arm. This is why in addition to the left eye and its orbit, the surgeons also transplanted his nose, lips and other facial tissues taken from a donor. The operation, planned in August 2022, could be carried out almost a year later and required the expertise of 140 people, all professions combined.
The “ideal” candidate to attempt this transplant
Aaron James appeared at a press conference dedicated to the operation. The man was, according to the researchers, the “ideal candidate” to attempt this transplant, because he was already on immunosuppressants to avoid rejection of other grafts, particularly his face. At the moment, he cannot move his left eye spontaneously, but he remains grateful for what is happening to him. “Whether I can see it or not, it’s like that. You have to start somewhere, and I hope this will initiate something that we can improve for the next patient” did he declare.
Doctors, for their part, remain hopeful that man will one day be able to see with this eye. Moreover, following the good results of this transplant, they are now looking for ways to help him regain his sight. This could involve the use of gene therapy or stem cells. This is already the case for Aaron James, who received stem cells from the spinal cord of the eye donor. They were injected directly into his optic nerve, with the aim of improving his regeneration and perhaps one day allowing him to regain sight in his left eye.