A man who was left blind after surviving an acid attack 24 years ago has had his sight restored thanks to a pioneering stem cell treatment, which he received via the NHS.
James O’Brien was just 18 when he was blinded in his right eye after someone threw acid in his face in a random attack.The ammonia burned the surface of his eye, leaving him unable to see, but at the age of 44, he has become the first NHS patient to undergo a stem cell procedure.
The surgery used cells from his left eye, which is healthy, and after treatment over the last 18 months, he is now able to see again.
Medics at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have spent 20 years developing the technique and say they want to operate on one patient a month.
Mr O’Brien, who is married with two children, told MailOnline: “Being able to see with both eyes – it’s a small thing that means the world. Basically I went from near-blindness in that eye to being able to see everything.
“It is like getting full sight back, I can see so much more. 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.”
He added: “It’s a massive bonus to be able to see out of both eyes, to see my children out of my right eye. I’d never seen them out of that eye before.”
The procedure was shown on regional show Inside Out London this evening (9 September), and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Stem cells are simple cells that have the ability to develop into almost any type of specialised cell in the body, meaning they can be used to replace damaged ones.
The cells taken from Mr O’Brien’s left eye were grown for months in a lab in Italy, where the firm with the NHS contract and expertise to perform this stage of the treatment is based.
Surgeons then took scar tissue from Mr O’Brien’s right eye and put in the stem cells from his left.
After waiting for about a year for the tissue to set in his eye, they then put in a cornea, which is key in vision and the focusing of light. The cornea was donated from a deceased person.
The whole procedure for one eye costs about £92,000 ($114k) and has been approved for all eligible patients on the NHS.