Israeli doctors at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa recently conducted a successful procedure through which they restored a woman’s lost eyesight using a placenta.
A young woman in her 20s recently came to Rambam Hospital after suffering significant chemical burns on the surface of her eye. The serious injury threatened her eyelids, the eyes, and her eyesight, putting her at risk for blindness.
Dr. Shmuel Graffi, Chairperson of the Israeli Cornea Society and a senior doctor in Rambam’s Department of Ophthalmology, treated the young woman and said that the chemicals were very dangerous and required a “creative solution.”
The chemicals were trapped between the woman’s contact lens and her cornea and began to digest the corneal tissue while penetrating deeply into the eyeball.
The materials also caused her immune system to develop an extreme reaction – the creation of scar tissue to protect the eye. This mechanism, if not treated during the critical time close to the moment of injury, may cause actual damage to the “transparent” front parts of the eye, the conjunctiva and cornea.
In addition, the surface area of the eye, which naturally produces moisture, may develop extreme dryness and considerable pain.
Thinking of ways to treat this complicated injury, Rambam doctors came up with an unusual solution – coating the affected area of the eye with an amniotic membrane, the external layer of the placenta. This unconventional surgical procedure is performed in only a few centers in Israel.
A unique process was used to preserve the amniotic membrane harvested from a donor following a Caesarean section. After ensuring the suitability of the membrane, the young woman underwent a complex, precise, and delicate procedure, during which the membrane was sewn under the woman’s eyelids.
The successful operation was followed by a short recovery period, during which the implant was successfully absorbed by her body and the young woman’s vision was restored.
“Reconstructive surgery using placental transplantation is a very special procedure for treating severe burns on the surface of the eye,” explained Dr. Graffi, who led the surgery.
“During pregnancy, the membrane prevents the fetus from being rejected from the womb and vice versa, and allows them to coexist. In addition, the membrane contains important nutrients and helps the fetus to grow and develop. We actually ‘exploit’ these properties during the implantation process, with the intention that the body will absorb the nutrients from the membrane that has been attached to the surface of the eye, allowing for recovery.”
The successful absorption of the implant, rehabilitation, and the creation of a healthier structure are expected. These stages will enable corneal transplantation or cataract surgery if needed.