One moment during the summer of 2020, Nick Kharufeh was enjoying an Independence Day party with his family in California. The next, he couldn’t see out of his left eye.

Kharufeh, now 26, was struck in the face by a malfunctioning firework, causing severe damage to and blindness in his left eye—damage his doctors said they could do little about. “I thought my life was over,” says Kharufeh, who until the accident had been training to become a pilot.

Only a few months later, however, Kharufeh’s mother learned about an experimental trial in Boston. Researchers there were working on a restorative technique meant specifically for patients, like Kharufeh, who had single-eye injuries that couldn’t be treated through typical methods.

A cornea transplant can help restore function and vision to a damaged eye, but only if the patient still has a healthy reserve of stem cells around the cornea. These stem cells—adult cells known as limbal stem cells, which are distinct from embryonic stem cells—maintain the clear surface layer of the eye; without them, the cornea becomes bumpy, opaque, and painful. This was the case for Kharufeh: white tissue had grown over his eye, which had also painfully fused with his eyelid in the aftermath of his accident.

Kharufeh picked up and moved from California to Boston to be part of the trial. “I was told that there wasn’t much hope by all my doctors out in California,” he says. “I figured, ‘I might as well [enroll] because the worst that can happen is I stay blind in that eye and the best that can happen is I see again.’”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *