A partially blind woman has regained her sight after receiving Kenya’s first-ever stem cell transplant from a placenta.

Jane Muthoni lost her sight completely in the left eye in 2013 after a laboratory accident in school. Her right eye is normal.

Late January, she became the first Kenyan eye patient to receive a stem cell transplant at the Laser Eye Centre in Nairobi. The surgery was performed a team of four specialists led by Dr Mukesh Joshi.

A review carried out on Saturday shows the left eye has healed, slowly restoring sight to the 23-year-old woman.

“We transplanted stem cells from the opposite eye to the damaged eye, a procedure that requires a lot of minute details,” Nairobi-based ophthalmologist Joshi said.

Millions of stem cells are found at the junction of the white and black parts of the eye.

“Once the stem cells are taken from the opposite eye, they will not stick to the cornea, so a special membrane, known as the amniotic membrane, is derived from the placenta imported from the USA,” he said.

This membrane is applied with special glue so it can stick to the damaged cornea. “Stem cells gradually start repopulating and giving nutrition to the superficial layer of the cornea since the cornea does not have a blood supply.

“With improved nutrition, the cornea starts becoming clear once the newly transplanted stem cells get repopulated,” Mukesh said.

Scan images show Muthoni’s eyes are now less cloudy and streaks of veins that ran through the cornea have disappeared.

The function of the stem cells is to give nutrition to the cornea to enable it to maintain its clarity since the cornea does not have a blood supply. The cornea is the first transparent part of the eye, through which light passes.

Due to injuries, like chemical accidents or infections, the cells get damaged, making the cornea cloudy and blood vessels start to run on it.

Muthoni had normal eyesight until the high school laboratory accident damaged her left eye.

Corneal wound healing is a complex process that occurs in response to various eye injuries and surgery. Delayed or incomplete healing is a significant clinical concern.

The Kenyan case presents evidence of the role of stem cells in corneal wound healing.