Surgeons in New York have performed the first-ever whole-eye transplant in a human, they announced on Thursday, an accomplishment being hailed as a breakthrough even though the patient has not regained sight in the eye.
In the six months since the surgery, performed during a partial face transplant, the grafted eye has shown important signs of health, including well-functioning blood vessels and a promising-looking retina, according to the surgical team at NYU Langone Health.
“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,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the team.
Until now, doctors have only been able to transplant the cornea, the clear front layer of the eye.
The recipient of the eye, Aaron James, is a 46-year-old military veteran from Arkansas who survived a work-related high-voltage electrical accident that destroyed the left side of his face, his nose, his mouth and his left eye.
The transplant surgery took 21 hours.
Initially, doctors were just planning to include the eyeball as part of the face transplant for cosmetic reasons, Rodriguez said during a Zoom interview.
“If some form of vision restoration occurred, it would be wonderful, but… the goal was for us to perform the technical operation,” and have the eyeball survive, Rodriquez added.
Whatever happens going forward will be monitored, he said.