“The simple fact that we have transplanted an eye is a huge step forward, something that has been talked about for a century but no one has ever succeeded,” surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the transplant team, told reporters. So far, doctors have only succeeded in transplanting the cornea.
Aaron James is a war veteran from the state of Arkansas who was seriously injured when an electric current burned the left side of his face, nose, mouth and left eye. His wife Meagan stands by James’ side the whole time.
“In his mind and heart, it’s still him. So I didn’t mind him not having a nose. But it bothered me that it bothered him,” she described to the AP agency. The doctors originally intended to transplant the eye for “cosmetic” reasons only and did not anticipate that James would ever be able to see.
The transplanted eye cannot yet communicate with his brain through the optic nerve. To promote nerve healing, doctors took adult stem cells from the donor’s bone marrow and inserted them into James’ optic nerve during the transplant, hoping to replace the missing cells and protect the optic nerve.
“If his sight came back in some form, it would be wonderful, but the original goal was to do a technical operation,” Rodriguez said, according to Reuters. He added that transplanting a viable eye opens up a number of new opportunities, such as collaboration with scientists from other fields of medicine who can look for new ways to restore sight.