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March 2010

Ask the Doctor

Is it possible to receive an eye transplant?

Rachel Bishop.
Rachel Bishop, M.D.
Staff Clinician
National Eye Institute

It is possible to transplant one part of the eye—the clear outer covering, called the cornea. But despite advances in the science of organ transplantation, it's not currently possible to receive a complete eye transplant, says NEI ophthalmologist Rachel Bishop, M.D.

More than 1 million nerve fibers connect each eye to the brain. "At this time, we're not able to reconstruct those connections," Dr. Bishop explains. "Those connections are brain tissue, and we can't do brain transplants either."

Corneal transplantation, however, is a relatively routine procedure. More than 40,000 corneal transplant surgeries are performed each year, according to the Eye Bank Association of America. The procedure involves removing damaged cornea tissue and replacing it with clear cornea tissue, usually donated through an eye bank. Read more about corneal transplantation.

If an injury or disease causes so much damage that an eye must be removed, a person could wear a prosthetic or artificial eye for cosmetic purposes. "People who lose an eye should also wear protective glasses to avoid injuring the other eye," Dr. Bishop says.

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Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health