A US military veteran has become the first patient in the world to have another person’s eye transplanted after a near-fatal electrical accident.
Aaron James, 46, miraculously survived a 7,200-volt electric shock when his face accidentally touched high-voltage wiring in 2021.
The accident left him with serious injuries to his left arm, nose, lips, front teeth, left cheek and chin. His eye also had to be removed.
But in May, a team of 140 doctors in New York City performed a 21-hour partial face and eye transplant, the first surgery of its kind.
Until then, eye transplants were thought to be impossible due to the complex network of nerves and blood vessels that connect the eye to the brain.
Doctors have now said it is possible that one’s father will eventually be able to see through the transplanted eye.
Experts told MailOnline this is an “exciting development, but warned it is too early to say” whether the procedure marks a step towards curing blindness.
Aaron James, 46, is the first patient in the world to have someone else’s eye transplanted after a near-fatal electrical accident.
What causes blindness?
Injuries, infections, and many medical conditions can cause blindness, which can range from severe visual impairment to total blindness.
Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have vision problems or blindness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the UK, 340,000 people are registered as blind or partially sighted, according to the NHS.
Chemical burns, exposure to toxins, physical fights, and industrial accidents are some of the most common ways people can become blind due to injury. But accidents involving sports, cars, and fireworks can also be to blame.
Dr. Eduardo D. Rodríguez (right), senior surgeon director of the Facial Transplant Program at NYU Langone, led the 21-hour operation.
Mr. James was able to return to Arkansas with his wife, Meagan, and daughter, Allie (pictured).
Infections such as measles, rubella, and shingles can also cause blindness. However, this is not common in the UK.
Trachoma, a disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. According to the WHO, it spreads in the poorest areas of Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
In the UK, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss. It causes a blurred or distorted area in a person’s vision.
Cataracts, which cause clouding of the eye’s lens, and glaucoma, which causes damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision, can also cause blindness.
A stroke can also cause blindness if it occurs in an area of the brain involved in vision, as it reduces blood flow to the brain.
What options are currently available?
Medications and surgery can help treat some forms of severe blindness.
For example, eye drops can reduce eye pressure and relieve glaucoma symptoms.
And an operation can repair physical problems with the structure of the eye, such as replacing the cloudy lens in the eye of cataract patients with an artificial one.
However, for many there is no treatment.
As it is, they are offered help to make the most of their remaining vision or assistance in adjusting to living with blindness.
Cutting-edge technology is also being developed for those living with vision loss. These include high-tech glasses, which offer people with partial vision a way to cope with everyday life. One pair, created by the University of Oxford, uses a video camera to Interpret the environment and differentiate objects.
Could eye transplants be a cure?
Dr. Eduardo Rodríguez, senior director surgeon of the Face Transplant Program at NYU Langone who performed Mr. James’s operation, said the operation marks ““a big step forward” and paves the way “for the next chapter aimed at restoring vision.”
Although James still can’t see with his new eye, the team said that could be possible in the future.
“We have now shown that the procedure is safe and potentially effective, but we need time to determine whether this step helps improve the chances of vision restoration and whether there is anything more that can be done in the future to optimize the procedure.” ‘ said Dr. Samer Al-Homsi, one of the doctors behind the operation.
But experts say it could be a long time before we know whether the procedure will cure blindness.
Dr Peter Hampson, clinical director of the Association of Optometrists, told MailOnline: “If the donated eye shows signs of health, this is potentially an exciting development and may have implications for the treatment of eye conditions and advances in medical knowledge. for future patients.
‘However, caution is needed at this stage; It is simply too early to say whether this patient will regain sight or, indeed, whether this is a step towards curing blindness.’
James (pictured with his wife, Meagan) only spent 17 days in the intensive care unit
The surgery is “naturally complex” because the optic nerve, which transmits signals from the eye to the brain, contains more than 1 million nerve fibers and for the eye to function normally, those fibers would have to be linked in the correct way to cure blindness. . Dr. Hampson said.
“It may be many years before we know if that is possible,” he said.
‘Diagnosis and medical treatment are advancing at a considerable pace. Given that around 50 per cent of all sight loss in the UK is preventable, one of the central things we can all do to protect our vision is to carry out regular vision tests with an optometrist to help ensure that any threatening conditions vision is detected and treated in time. he added.
What did the procedure entail?
A team of 140 people performed the surgery, which lasted 21 hours and took place in two operating rooms.
One team was in the room with Mr. James, removing parts of the face that needed to be replaced, while another dissected the donor’s face and eyeball.
The main challenge was connecting the eye to the optic nerve, a part of the central nervous system that transmits visual information to the brain, and helping the nerves regenerate over time.
The team did this by combining the donor eye with adult stem cells found in the donor’s bone marrow. These cells were injected into the optic nerve in the hopes of helping the nerves regenerate and eventually restore vision.
James spent 17 days in the intensive care unit before being discharged and sent to outpatient rehabilitation.