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Blue-intra-tissue refractive index shaping (Blue-IRIS) is a new approach to laser refractive correction of optical aberrations in the eye, which alters the refractive index of the cornea rather than changing its shape. Before it can be implemented in humans, it is critical to establish whether and to what extent, Blue-IRIS damages the cornea. Here, we contrasted the impact of −1.5 D cylinder refractive corrections inscribed using either Blue-IRIS or femtosecond laser in-situ keratomileusis (femto-LASIK) on corneal cell viability. Blue-IRIS was used to write a −1.5 D cylinder gradient index (GRIN) lens over a 2.5 mm by 2.5 mm area into the mid-stromal region of the cornea in six freshly-enucleated feline eyes. The same correction (−1.5 D cylinder) was inscribed into another four cat eyes using femto-LASIK. Six hours later, all corneas were processed for histology and stained for terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-digoxigenin nick end labeling (TUNEL) and p-γ-H2AX to label damaged cells. In Blue-IRIS-treated corneas, no tissue was removed and TUNEL-stained cells were confined to the laser focal zone in the stroma. In femto-LASIK, photoablation removed 14 μm of anterior stroma, but in addition, TUNEL-positive cells clustered across the femto-flap, the epithelium at the flap edges and the stroma below the ablation zone. Keratocytes positive for p-γ-H2AX were seen adjacent to all Blue-IRIS focal zones, but were completely absent from femto-LASIK-treated corneas. Unlike femto-LASIK, Blue-IRIS attains refractive correction in the cornea without tissue removal and only causes minimal, localized keratocyte death within the laser focal zones. In addition, Blue-IRIS induced DNA modifications associated with phosphorylation of γ-H2AX in keratocytes adjacent to the laser focal zones. We posit that this p-γ-H2AX response is related to alterations in chromatin structure caused by localized changes in osmolarity, a possible mechanism for the induced refractive index changes.Blue-IRIS alters the refractive index of corneal tissue.Blue-IRIS is non-invasive; the epithelium and endothelium remain intact.Cell damage is minimal and more localized in IRIS than femto-LASIK.DNA damage occurs in laser focal zones.Localized osmolarity changes may underlie corneal refractive index change.