In this day and age, it seems as though scientists and doctors have found ways to successfully transplant almost any organ imaginable. Patients across the country receive new hearts, livers, skin and kidneys, among other things. The eye, however, has proven more difficult due to major intricacies in the detailed anatomy of the eye.
Researchers in Pittsburgh, Boston and San Diego have begun collaboration on a project to transplant eyes to those who have experienced vision loss and eye damage. Transitioning from a life with full, clear vision to one with damaged or nonexistent vision can be difficult to say the least.
Finding a match
As is standard in any organ transplant, one of the initial issues to tackle is the topic of rejection. Donors and recipients need to be carefully matched to reduction this risk of rejection. With eye transplants specifically, recipients need to take immunosuppressant medications for life to reduce any adverse effects the transplant may have on their system.
Currently, the only type of ocular transplant that exists is that of the cornea, which is the thin lens over the eye. Since no full eye implant is possible, patients who experience traumatic eye injuries or diseases that cause full or partial vision impairment are left with only a small number of treatment options. Typically, treatments involve ways to help patients manage their new sight as opposed to being able to make a dramatic improvement.
Ocular transplants challenges
Since the eye is one of the few organs that are unable to be transplanted in its entirety, many questions can be raised as to the challenges and difficulties that exist.
With the eye, there is an extremely short window between harvesting and implanting the eye. Cells in the retina die rather quickly and, once they do, the eye is relatively useless. In this short time frame, the eye also needs to be connected to all of the surrounding muscles so it can perform functions like focusing, moving and blinking.
An even more challenging obstacle is the connection of an eye transplant to the optic nerve. When a patient has suffered full or partial vision impairment, the nerves associated with the eye can also begin to deteriorate. Not only does the eye need to be successfully connected to the optic nerve, the nerve itself needs to be regenerated to work at a level that it is currently unaccustomed to. This area of nerve regeneration is one of the main focuses of the researchers studies.
Current state of ocular transplants
The focus on nerve regeneration is a benefit that can apply to not only the optic nerve and potential transplants, but also to treatments for other neurological diseases. As such, the research is moving forward with strength, already beginning preliminary trials. While eye transplants are still not available, major strides are being made to make ocular transplants a reality in the future.
If you have recently suffered a loss of vision, contact OCLI today to come in for an assessment. We would be happy to discuss treatment options to get you on a path to clearer vision!