Acid Attack Survivor Regains Eyesight After Groundbreaking Surgery

It's a huge step forward.

James O'Brien was blinded in an acid attack 24 years ago. Now, after a "pioneering" new stem cell treatment, he's able to see again.

O'Brien was attacked with ammonia, which burned the surface of his right eye and left him blind. At the age of 44, he signed up for and received treatment from the National Health Service in England. Through surgery, O'Brien received stem cells from his healthy left eye that allowed him to see again in his right eye. 

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"It is like getting full sight back, I can see so much more," he told The Daily Mail. "Before I couldn't even see the ophthalmic chart, the chart with all the letters on, now I can see the third line down and it's going to get much better."

Stem cells are basic cells in the body that can develop into certain, more specific cells based on where they are grown. For decades, researchers have been trying to unlock their potential in treatments like this, hoping they can repair damaged cells. In Mr. O'Brien's case, the cells from his right eye were grown in a lab in Italy. They used the scar tissue from his right eye and added the stem cells, then put in a cornea after the eye tissue had a year to grow on its own.

All told, the treatment cost about $114,000, and now it has been approved by the NHS for other patients. 

"It's a massive bonus to be able to see out of both eyes, to see my children out of my right eye," O'Brien said. "I'd never seen them out of that eye before."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / 4 PM production

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