This is a world first bringing hope for people who have lost the use of one eye. American surgeons announced Thursday that they had achieved this spring the first transplant of a complete eye on a patient, who has not yet regained his sight.
Just over five months after surgery, the patient’s eye still shows signs of very good health, including blood flow to the retina. Results that leave experts “stunned,” Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the procedure, said at a press conference.
The patient electrified by a high voltage line
“There are millions of people who have lost their sight, and we’re not saying we’re going to solve that today,” the surgeon said. But we are definitely a little closer.” Surgeons also transplanted nose, lips and other facial tissues taken from a donor. The operation lasted approximately 21 hours, and was carried out at the end of May by a team from NYU Langone Health University Hospital in New York.
The recipient patient, Aaron James, was the victim of a workplace accident in 2021 which could have cost him his life: an electrician, he was seriously injured after his face touched a high-voltage power line. His eye, but also the majority of the left part of his face were burned.
The man was originally supposed to have several parts of his face transplanted. As he had to, whatever happened, take immunosuppressants to avoid rejection of grafts carried out on his facethis former US Army soldier was an ideal candidate to attempt an eye transplant.
The transplanted eye still closed for the moment
Aaron James, whose right eye still functions normally, appeared during the press conference with his face completely uncovered, his left eye closed under his eyelid (which he cannot yet move naturally). “Whether I can see or not, that’s the way it is,” he said, thanking the donor and his family. “You have to start somewhere, and I hope this will initiate something that we can improve for the next patient.” »
” I can smell again, eat “, he said, adding that he wanted to “go out in public” again. “For the first time in a year and a half, I was able to kiss my wife,” said Aaron James.
Could it be that the transplanted eye will subsequently regain vision? “In medicine, you never like to say never,” replied Vaidehi Dedania, a retina specialist at NYU Langone Health. “We will continue to follow it, and see how things evolve. But we have a lot of hope. A large part of the retina is preserved, and our tests show that it is capable of generating a signal,” she detailed.
A “huge step forward”
The doctors did not expect such good results, and a team was urgently formed to explore the different avenues that could help restore sight. This is a “remarkable achievement” and marks an important step toward “the ultimate goal of restoring vision,” commented Daniel Pelaez, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Miami.
“This is a huge step forward,” added surgeon Kia Washington, who has been working on this problem for 10 years at the University of Colorado. “So many people still doubted” that such a transplant “was possible in humans. » Will it one day be possible to give sight to a blind person of birth thanks to a transplant? This is still a distant horizon, according to the specialist. But “I think yes, it will happen in the coming decades. »