The surgery spans over two months and is done in two stages involving up to 5 different procedures.
"First, the eye is opened up and the entire inner surface of the eyelids, cornea and scar tissues are removed. We then transplant the inner mucosal lining of the cheek onto the new eye surface. Next, we remove a canine tooth and some of the adjacent bone from the patient. We shave this down, drill a hole then fit it with an artificial cornea made of a medical-grade plastic optical cylinder. After this, we implant it into the patient's cheek to grow a new blood supply."
All this is done in the first stage of operation. Next comes the insertion about two months later.
"We open the cheek mucosal lining over the eye, remove the tooth-bone-cylinder from the cheek and insert this into the cornea," explained Prof Tan.
Since all the "hardware" - tissue, bone and tooth - are all taken from the patient, there is no issue of rejection whatsoever. After the final surgery, light is able to enter through the plastic cylinder, and patients will be able to regain good vision.
"Over half of our patients achieve 20/20 vision, ¾ regain at least driving vision of 20/40, and the rest have reached their best visual potential," he added. Only one eye receives treatment at any one time, with the other eye "in reserve".
Selection for the operation is strict, however, as there are conditions to be met, given the complexity of the surgery.
"The most basic criterion is that the retina and optic nerves must still have some function for visual recovery, as the treatment replaces the entire front of the eye only. So those who are born blind from retinal or opti
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