World's first successful eye transplant, thanks to Materialise


Surgeons in New York performed the first successful eye transplant ever with virtual 3D planning and a 3D model based on CT scans, devised and designed by Leuven-based company Materialise.

In May, an American veteran suffered severe burns to his face when he received a 7,200-volt shock while working on a high-voltage power line. He also lost his left eye in the process. This injury is usually irreversible because, until now, only corneal transplants have been an option.

But Materialise, one of the world's oldest 3D printing companies that supplies its high-quality products to hospitals in Belgium and abroad, came to the rescue in this instance. It supported NYU Langone Health with tools to virtually prepare the transplant of an eye and part of the eye socket, along with a partial face transplant, and also visualise different scenarios. Materialise's instruments, which allow bone fragments to be cut out faster and with extreme precision, are tailored to the donor and the patient. Stem cells from the bone marrow of the former were injected into the optic nerve of the latter.

The procedure was primarily cosmetic and intended to test technical feasibility. What have they found? Six months after surgery, the 'foreign' eyeball as well as the blood vessels and retina are doing just fine. Eventually, the patient may even be able to see with his new eye.

The operation certainly opens up many new possibilities in the long run.