A BLIND man has had his eyesight completely restored by Sydney surgeons - who sewed his tooth into his eyeball.
The risky but remarkable procedure involved planting a tiny lens inside the tooth, which now reflects light onto the back of the eye.
By using the patient's own tooth, it ensures the body doesn't reject it.
The operation, known as osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, was recently performed twice at Sydney Eye Hospital, with one of the procedures being carried out on 72-year-old Goulburn man John Ings.
Mr Ings, whose procedure will feature on Channel 9's 60 Minutes tonight, had progressively lost his sight as a result of the herpes virus. His vision has now been restored by the breakthrough operation.
The second patient, 50-year-old Cairns woman Leonie Garrett, has also had her sight improved, from barely being able to see the difference between light and dark to now having 20/20 vision.
The operation, which treats corneal blindness, is the only one of its kind being performed in the southern hemisphere.
It was carried out by two former classmates of the University of NSW, oral and maxillofacial specialist Dr Shannon Webber and oculoplastic surgeon Dr Greg Moloney.
The pair trained extensively in Germany to learn the procedure, which has been performed there on a handful of occasions since it was first tried in 2004. A German specialist came to Australia to supervise the two operations.
The procedure is broken down into two stages. First the patient's tooth is extracted, a hole is drilled through it and a small plastic lens is placed inside.
It is then sewn into the patient's cheek, where it grows tissue over a period of several months.
"We rely on the tooth to gain its own blood and tissue supply so when it is removed from the mouth, what you have essentially is a living complex," Dr Webber said.
A flap of skin and mucus membrane from inside the mouth is then sewn over the eyeball.
Three months later, the tooth lens is removed from the cheek and sewn over the patient's blind eyeball, then covered with the flap of skin. An opening is made to allow the new lens to see out.
It projects light onto the patient's macular, in the back of the eye, much as happens with the lens of a healthy cornea.
Both Dr Maloney and Dr Webber now expect to operate two or three times a year in Australia through the public health system at Sydney Eye Hospital.
"It's pretty incredible and something we have been building towards for several years," Dr Webber said.
"So to have done it successfully on two occasions is extremely satisfying. Both patients are doing really well and Leonie, in particular, is an amazing case because she had virtually no ability to see at all.
"We anticipate doing two to three of these surgeries a year and it will really come down to a supply and demand thing."
Each patient would be assessed by Sydney Eye Hospital.
For Mr Ings, the successful surgery now means he is able to watch his own procedure on television tonight - something that would not have been possible six months ago.
"Before the operation I wouldn't have been able to watch anything," he said yesterday.
Originally published as Man's sight restored using tooth