Aakanksha Pathania, B.Optom

Optometrist, Sharp Sight Center, New Delhi, India


Acid attack is a form of vicious assault involving the act of throwing acid or corrosive substance onto the body of another “with the intention to disfigure, torture or kill”. (1) The consequences of acid on the eyes are destructive and life threatening. Almost 5,00,000 people have lost their vision due to chemical burns or acid attacks (2).Present day treatment for the damaged eye is to get an artificial cornea which can make its way for infection. Scientists have found a way to save people from blindness and infection, here comes the saviour “Stem cell growth”.

Stem cells have always been a saviour when it comes to treatment for degenerative eye disease or generating growth of new connections via therapy (3) Similar to skin, cornea is also covered with collective layers of epithelium acting as a guard for barrier. At the time of injury to the cornea, the stem cells start to divide into great numbers and migrate to the damaged portion to heal.

Stem cell growth has brought back the joy of vision to many people, for instance, James O’ Brien was blinded in right eye when he was 18. At the age of 44, he became the first patient to go under stem cell growth treatment and his whole life turned around, he could finally see with both of his eyes after almost 20+years. (3)

Figure 1: Stem cell treatment helped acid attack survivor restore vision after 25 years.
[Picture Courtesy :https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dailymail.co.uk%2Fnews%2Farticle-7441441%2FAcid-attack-victims-sight-restored-25-years-following-pioneering-stem-cell-]

During an injury like burn with a chemical or acid attack, the blank cells tend to lose their ability to heal. The evolving method known as stem cell growth uses an enzyme ‘collagenase’ which prevents stem cells from losing their healing ability. (4) Collagenase being a tissue softening enzyme smoothen the stiffened area due to injury hence stimulate healing. Applying collagenase is a safe and constructive method preventing the loss of adult stem cells.

During an acid attack, corneal cells stiffens to form a scar. The scar is surgically removed and the lab-grown sheet is then attached.(5)  After the transplant gets successful the patient regains their vision within weeks, chances of a successful transplant is 68% only when the stem cells are taken from a healthy eye.

Figure 2: Researchers offer a ray of hope for acid attacks victims who lost their vision.
[Picture Courtesy: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.lvpei.org%2Fmedia-event%2Frevolutionary-research-offers-hope-for-restoring-sight-in-acid-attack-victims&psig=AOvVaw0QqJWs05yMT- ]

What made the whole process revolutionary was that wound healing ability was also dependent on the environment these cells were exposed to (6). Using collagenase has been approved for therapeutic applications by both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicine Agency. It was previously considered that stem cells stop growing because they were killed during an acid burn. However, research has proved that during an acid burn the stem cells differentiate in response due to stiffening hence hampering the healing process. (7)

Acid attacks have caused physiological as well as psychological trauma, infections, disfigurement along with blindness in both eyes.(8) Acid attacks have a long-lasting impact on victims’ social, physical, and emotional life, they can leave a permanent damage behind. Acid attacks have been rapidly increasing in India, 78% cases are due to marriage proposals, rejections and personal grudges. stem cell growth has given a confidence to doctors, that now such eye conditions are also treatable as well as to the patients that they can live a good life with a new vision.(8)



  1. Patel, M. (2014). A desire to disfigure: Acid attack in India. International journal of criminology and sociological theory7(2), 1-11.
  2. Mead, B., Berry, M., Logan, A., Scott, R. A., Leadbeater, W., & Scheven, B. A. (2015). Stem cell treatment of degenerative eye disease. Stem cell research14(3), 243-257.
  3. Zieske, J. D. (1994). Perpetuation of stem cells in the eye. Eye8(2), 163-169.
  4. Marchini, G., Pedrotti, E., Pedrotti, M., Barbaro, V., Di Iorio, E., Ferrari, S., … & Ponzin, D. (2012). Long‐term effectiveness of autologous cultured limbal stem cell grafts in patients with limbal stem cell deficiency due to chemical burns. Clinical & experimental ophthalmology40(3), 255-267.
  5. Soleimani, M., & Naderan, M. (2020). Management strategies of ocular chemical burns: current perspectives. Clinical Ophthalmology, 2687-2699.
  6. Morgan, S. J. (1987). Chemical burns of the eye causes and management. British journal of ophthalmology71(11), 854-857.
  7. Francois, J. (1977). The Seventh Frederick H. Verhoeff Lecture. Collagenase and collagenase inhibitors. Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society75, 285.
  8. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR) www.jetir.org

Picture Courtesy

Cover image: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Finews.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fhealth%2Fman-given-his-eyesight-back-through-stem-cell-treatment-25-years-after-acid-attack-left-him-blind-339064&psig=AOvVaw3tYrOz60Cm5511w2OZ40n8&ust=1676389533422000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBEQjhxqFwoTCKCI4efrkv0CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAE