Eye transplants and stem cells.

Science is slowly catching up with science fiction. Doctors can transplant the heart, lung, liver, kidneys and more recently hand transplants. Parts of the eye such as corneal transplants are also available.

The holy grail would be an eye transplant or the ability to regrow an eye with the help of stem cells. While there is no real prospect of achieving this in the near future there is continuing research working towards this end.

The three main impediments to transplanting a human eye are maintenance of donor eye viability, optic-nerve regeneration and restoration of topographic organisation, and avoidance of immunological rejection.

Reattaching the millions of nerves  of the optic nerve to allow transfer of the information from the eye to the brain is the greatest impediment to achieving a viable eye transplant. If we are able to achieve this we still have the complications of restoring the circulation to the eye, balancing pressure of the transplanted eye and maintaining corneal health.

The earliest record of an eye transplant dates back to 1885 when a rabbit eye was transplanted into a human orbit. Since then there has been numerous attempts to transplant a mammalian eye. Although some of the studies establish “success” in other capacities, no visual function was recovered following transplantation.

There has been some success with eye transplantation performed in cold-blooded vertebrate.

A frog with the transplanted artificial eye on the left.

Professor Makoto Asashima of Tokyo University in Japan has used stem cell-like cells from a frog embryo to grow complete eyes which were then successfully transplanted into tadpoles.

Professor Asashima  believes that his groundbreaking research could pave the way for the same procedure to be used to restore vision in humans.

So far, Professor Asashima and his team have transplanted new eyes into about 60 tadpoles, of which nearly three-quarters could then see. And 7 of the transplanted eyes have survived the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog.

More recently  Embryonic stem cells from mice have been transformed into a rudimentary eye. The eye was not grown to the fully developed stage but  raises hopes of growing parts of the human eye to investigate and treat blindness.

One of the concerns people have when faced with the prospect of having an eye removed is whether they are going to be able to have an eye transplant if / when the technology becomes available.

A  message that comes through in all the articles I have read on this topic is that while we are hopeful that this technology will be available one day, it is not something that will be available  in the near future.

Ophthalmologists I have talked to about this have advised that talk of eye transplants and bionic eye replacements is only giving people false hope and the technology is still very much in the realm or science fiction.

I feel that while it is important to be realistic about prospect of eye transplant technology being available in my life time, it is encouraging to see that there is research being done in this area.

You can read more about Professor Makoto Asashima and his transplanted frogs eyes Here

Information on the” Simple eye grown from stem cells” can be found on the Guardian website Here

24 Responses to Eye transplants and stem cells.

  1. Avatar for Paula Hutson
    Paula Hutson December 27, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    how ever you see its hard , its been five years and i still can go off the deep end at the drop of a hat , I dont think it will ever go away ( The way I feel)

    • Avatar for Paul Geelen
      Paul Geelen January 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      Hi Paula,

      It is sad that you are still living with deep seated emotional pain after 5 years. I know of some that have suffered for 50 years and more but eventually do get through their anguish. For one man it took writing his story down. He wrote non stop with no capitals with no punctuation, for 16 pages free hand. It was a healing experience for him and I often recommend it to others. By writing your story down, it takes the information out of the emotional side of your brain and puts it into a more practical place where it can be dealt with more effectively. If you are still having difficulties after writing your story down, then it is also helpful to talk to a counselor or psychologist. A problem shared is a problem halved.
      Kind regards,

      Jenny Geelen.

      • Avatar for Tammy
        Tammy June 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

        I lost my right eye 16 year’s ago, I lost it just before I became pregnant for my first and only child. It was removed in 2000. It’s been really hard, I have daily migraines because of it. I also have problem’s with my good eye, and have to be on disability, but out of the bad came the good, I have my child, I did lose my husband (divorce), but also came a stregnth that I never knew I was capable of. I really hope this helps!!!!

      • Avatar for Parisa
        Parisa June 7, 2012 at 4:30 am #

        My daughters therapist told us it is a grieving process, that you will never fully be “healed” but you will go through hard times, where the vision impairment becomes harder to heal with one day then the next. my daughter is 11 yrs old and has been blind practically since birth, she has ROP, and we both have our good days and our bad. but to remain positive is our goal and we remind each other that, that is the way we want to live our lives 🙂

        • Avatar for Tiffany
          Tiffany February 6, 2014 at 4:31 am #

          I know what your daughter is going though. I have had ROP since birth and have had a couple of transplant surgeries in one of my eyes that is really bad and the other is going too. I am a single mom with 2 kids and have a wonderful education behind me, s well as before me. I didn’t have anyone though, when my retinas started to tear and so much of my sight was lost to shadows and colored spots. I am 32 now and have my own home, business, and can possible answer some questions that you and your daughter may have. Even current surgery procedures for such a condition if you would like. Thank you for sharing your story, it helps to know I am not alone with this problem :).

    • Avatar for Tracey M. GRAGG
      Tracey M. GRAGG July 26, 2013 at 4:50 am #

      Don’t give up I know it can be hard. Like I was stating below all over this page. I am not visually impaired but my husband is & he tells me all about it & I really feel for people like that I am always trying to help the visually impaired in any way I can because I know that’s what god would want me to do. My husband has glaucoma, He was born with one eye, He hit a bookcase a couple of months ago & as he says the lights went out right after, his ex wife Susan Martin she is visually impaired different than my husband she has undeveloped retina’s & will never see again, the doctors are telling my husband he has optic nerve damage & will never see again. Micheal’s best friend Robert he is completely blind & I am always driving them everywhere helping them shop whatever they need, People are always asking me if I’m there caretaker I get so mad no I’m not there caretaker I am helping my husband & his friends. What’s the matter having people ever seen someone take care of there spouse? He’s visually impaired & can’t even see colors I get so mad so I know but you have got to stay strong. I am always protecting my husband because as I’m sure you can tell people can be so mean to visually impaired community. What they don’t understand they judge so people make fun of them or act like they can’t hear because they can’t see or they talk over him I am always like Micheal can talk he’s just visually impaired. And when people make fun of him I’m like who can you make fun of you retard that shuts people up. Point is I know exactly what your going thru because I see it with my husband & he don’t tell me but I can tell sometimes he wants to give up & I talk to him like I’m talking to you. Just when you want to give up just call a friend, read a book or pray. People want you to give up never do that. I love my husband & I try to look out for him But I have the same talk with him. Don’t give up. Never do that. people care.

      • Avatar for Pat
        Pat November 11, 2015 at 10:57 am #

        I thank you so much for this post over 15 years I have been gradually losing my eyesight the past three years is completely gone except for small light perception in left eye. I had started having bad headaches and I paints. A week ago I was told Emma are you shrinking and is nonfunctioning in the right. They told me to start preparing for a prosthetic eye. You were right everything you said about the way people are. In how they react towards blind people. I have a caring husband who is very supportive of me and helps me as much as he can. But they are times where if I don’t change my way of thinking I feel like I cannot breathe it feels like I’m being smothered. But I shake it off and put my mind somewhere else. . I am having difficulties thinking about the prosthetic guy because of something new and I never thought would happen. I do know what it’s help me most of all is prayer. Because I know whatever I face I will get through it with God .
        It is very good to also talk about how we feel because Holden and Ian does not help.

    • Avatar for Tonya
      Tonya February 8, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

      I have lost my eye due to a parasite and glaucoma at the age of 4(parasite), glaucoma, 6 years old), I still have the hope that one day I will see out of two eyes. This is 35 years later. Never give up hope. I lost the entire eye of my right, I so wish that I could be a test subject…and if the test does not work that is find because at least I can try to make seeing out of two eyes hopeful in future years to come. I can say that in the past 35 years the scientist have come much further than I could have ever imagined

  2. Avatar for Luka Arabuli
    Luka Arabuli January 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm #


    I’m having a delicate situation and would like to know if is possible to make a test on my eyes as I would like to sell one. I’m a very healthy person and need to make the operation as soon as possible.

    Any further details, contact me.

    Kind regards,


    • Avatar for Paul Geelen
      Paul Geelen January 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Hi Luka,

      As yet there is no ophthalmologist that has been able to successfully transplant a human eye. I know it is something that Doctors are working on, but I believe that with stem cell research, people will one day grow their own eyes back. If you have healthy eyes it is a great idea to hang on to them. You never know when something sudden and accidental can take the sight in one, so it is comforting to have a spare. I cannot think of any doctor that would remove a healthy eye.

      Kind regards,

      Jenny Geelen

    • Avatar for florent
      florent February 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      That is insane. No situation you are going through could ever be worth the cost of selling an eye. Nothing.
      And like Paul says, you could injure your one eye that you have left- then what?

  3. Avatar for Lynn
    Lynn June 17, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    My son lost both is eyes in an explosion. I don’t know how you go from perfect vision for over 30 years to suddenly blind. He has a young family. Is there any hope that within his life time he will be able to grow his own eyes through stem cell research and have them successfully transplanted? Then the next thought is would the military consider this procedure? Should we just give up hope and work on transitioning to the blind life? While we are so glad he is alive, we are distraught about the extent of his injuries.

    • Avatar for beverly skepnek
      beverly skepnek July 20, 2012 at 2:12 am #

      How sorry I am, I just lost my right eye and every day is so hard. Your son, God bless. And you as his mother is hard because we would do anything for our kids. I pray for him, may god give a doctor the power to restor your sons sight.

    • Avatar for Tracey M. GRAGG
      Tracey M. GRAGG July 26, 2013 at 4:35 am #

      My husband was born with 1 eye. He has glaucoma in the other. He hit a bookcase by accident & went completely blind he can’t even see colors. He used to walk. His faith in god get’s him thru & I try to. If you read down I’m arguing with doctors to do an expirement surgery I think will work if they insert a computer chip in his brain take an eye out of a donor & insert it in someone’s eye & rewire it in the brain I think it will bring sight back better than 20/20. Mine is 20/40 corrected but I can’t imagine what visually impaired people go thru I’m constantly telling my husband this all the time. I feel so sorry for him & you. Keep praying & don’t give up find a doctor to do surgery on you to save your sight & never give up. I’m fighting for my husband now & I know how hard it can be because Micheal goes thru it to & I stick by him no matter what always trying to help him & the visually impaired community.

  4. Avatar for anagely
    anagely June 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I am a 18 year old girl. & since i was born one of my eyes is smaller than the other. i have had operations on my right eye, the smaller one, because my eye ball would move around like crazy. now it moves around normally with my left eye. my left eye is a hazel brown, & my righ eye is green but my right eye is totally blind, i can see with my left eye but i wear glasses bc i dont see perfectly. i wonder some day if it would be possible to at least have both eyes the same size & same color. i would love to be able to drive, but thats impossible at this point since i can not see with one eye. i fear that i will not be able to do some of the things teenagers my age normally do…

  5. Avatar for Gary L. Gutschewski
    Gary L. Gutschewski July 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    My story is probably too long for your blog page. I am almost 73 years old. I injured my right eye when five years old. When I was seven years old, they removed it because the pressure mechanism went haywire and I was in severe pain. I have lived with an artificial riight eye since 1945. I had a severe perception problem and would get words mixed up. When I observed the word saw I would read was. A nun suggested that I make a picture of every word in my brain. I started doing this and it worked. I was about to be flunked in 3rd grade. I was passed on condition and started getting all A’s in fourth grade. I played sports, including football, went through college, some graduate school. I am retired, am married for almost 49 years, have six grand children and 2 great grandchildren. I have coached baseball, football, soccer, and basketball. I am really fortunate to have the great wife I have. I have many stories, but one might get the message to get on with life. You can overcome your difficulties. It is not always easy to cope with only one eye. Sometimes people can be insensitive. Take care of the good eye.

  6. Avatar for Cat Morgan
    Cat Morgan September 14, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    I’m now 65 with severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, but am doing well on a

    TNF blocker. At age 31, I lost my right eye, my chin..plus ALL my

    facial bones were pulverized in an accident. I had been a fashion

    model before this time. I cannot drive due to macular degeneration

    and floaters in my left eye, so I’m confined to my home on 118

    acres! It’s NOT a bad life as I can still do a great deal, and I

    weep when I see the hideous accidents people have had to their faces

    and bodies. I’m HOPING stem cell research is REALLY STEPPED UP as I

    want to see the day when stem cell research makes it possible for

    EVERYONE to re-grow their own body parts..whether it be eyes, faces,

    arms, legs, etc. I’m here to give HOPE to everyone and to ENCOURAGE

    ALL to support stem cell research. For many of you who are younger

    and have lost an eye or eyes or other body parts…PLEASE don’t give

    up HOPE!! I have a wonderful “fur family”…my cats and dogs that

    are with me all the time. They don’t notice my hideous outside

    appearance, but look at the REAL me..inside..unlike humans, so I

    would say I am quite happy. And my human friends are all inside my

    “little box” in front of me..LOL…and I chat with them each day. :

    -)) My only wish is to continue to have vision in my left eye, and I

    think I will as at age 65, I doubt that I’ll live longer than age 70

    as my parents (I had no siblings or relatives) died early at around

    age 40. I only wish the very BEST for all of you and hope research

    into eye transplants or regrowth of the eye through stem cells

    REALLY steps up!! Love to all of you.

    • Avatar for doy
      doy September 19, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      You are a good person. I am 64 and have the same problem with the same eye. Take care.

  7. Avatar for Jack
    Jack December 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I am very hopeful that someone somewhere will step it up in stem crll research. I have marfans syndrome and I have had 13 eye surgeries and a great deal of various trauma to my eyes in my life. I am 46 years old and nearly blind in my left eye. In the last three years I have had to give up on some of my favorite things in life. I have a very competitive nature and have always enjoyed sports, not the best way to be if you have marfans. Overs the years I had to give up on contact sports because of heart surgery and back surgery. I managed to adjust as I fell in love with golf and pool. But as I said In the last three years I’ve had to give those up too. Its like losing touch with who I am. I know there are so many people out there whose problems dwarf mine but I remain hopeful that my sight will be someday restored at least partially. My sight has never ever beeh good but I have always managed it. I fear I would lose myself if I were to go completely blind.

  8. Avatar for Shauna
    Shauna April 30, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    HI, i am blind in my right eye as i have no optic nerve. I was born this way, but only found out when i was 4. Years down the line at the age of 19, I have lost part sight in my left eye. I have been going back and forth from the hospital for over a year and a half now and its starting to take its toll, as they don’t know what the problem is. I can no longer see in the dark, i have to cope as if i was fully blind, counting steps to my house, but i don’t have a sense of smell either, which impairs me ever more as i can’t use this ability to help me. I’m now 21 and still don’t have an answer, but was recently told that there is an optic nerve! but its too under developed to do anything with. I’m in a really difficult position now, as this could mean ill lose my eye sight all together. Is there anything else i can do? I’ve done all the tests under the sun!

  9. Avatar for Caroline
    Caroline December 31, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    hi.. guess m not the only one who’s suffering my dad lost his sight wen I ws in grade 2 n my mom in grade 12 it’s hard at home able to take care of both parents who can’t seen my mom it was from diebetic n my dad was from incident from work ……i was hvng a hope that this stermcell will help but now it seems lyk it’s not yet been a proved m soo stressed dnt know wat else 2 do lost all hope n m too young sometime it seem as a curse m miserable it was better wen it my dad but now both parent wat hv i done 2 deserve this

    • Avatar for Julie
      Julie April 12, 2015 at 10:16 am #

      Just read your note about what you are going through. My older sister is blind and I assist her with what she needs help with. Her advice is for you to contact the Blind Assistance services for your state. Here in NE it’s called Services for the Visually Impaired. You can also contact Health & Human Services for help. Most states have training centers where the visually impaired can go to learn how to live more independently. Please take care of yourself. You have your own life to live too.

  10. Avatar for Lyn
    Lyn July 31, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    My son was born with Familial exudative Retinopathy. He is legally blind in one eye as the retina was completely detached at birth. Long story, but the retina is reattaching through many, many surgeries. However, there is no hope for sight. He can see out of his other eye, thankfully. My question is, would I be able to donate one of my eyes to him? I know he wouldn’t have sight at this stage in the research, but his bad eye is much smaller and I’m not sure how long it will last. I would rather he have mine than a fake eye. I am aware of the risk to me, I would take precautions to protect the one I would have left. He is under ten years of age and I would rather me have the fake eye. Is this possible?

  11. Avatar for Mindi
    Mindi April 3, 2016 at 7:28 am #

    I was just trying to read up on eyes and get more information. My husband was in a car accident and lost his year about 5 years ago, it was nerve damage, he was told he would never get his eye sight back. I have hope that one day they can repair nerve damage.
    I would like to know of any study or expiriment they are doing

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