Two-year-old British girl Dakota Clarke can see for the first time after undergoing pioneering stem cell treatment in China.
Dakota, who was born blind, is the first British patient to undergo the new type of therapy.
The £30,000 treatment, which involves stems cells taken from an umbilical cord being fed into her forehead, has allowed her to see people, objects, colours and lights around her.
Dakota suffers from Septo-Optic Dysplasia, which means the optic nerve does not develop properly, and has responded quicker than expected to the treatment. Her parents, Wilma, 28, and dad Darren, 34, are hoping she will continue to improve and have a life time of sight.
Speaking from the Qingdao People’s Hospital in southern China, Mrs Clarke, from Newtownabbey. near Belfast, said: “We didn’t know if the treatment would work, and people kept telling us it was too experimental, but we had to do this.
“It’s been worth every single penny to see the changes in her.”
Mr Clarke added: “It’s nothing short of a miracle for us. She can see the world for the first time.
“Last week she pointed at a hairbrush across the room and shouted ‘brush’. I almost cried with happiness.
“Her balance is so improved and she can now walk beside me only holding on with one hand. Previously she would veer in circles and fall over.”
Dakota, who has an older brother, Jake, nine, nearly died at birth and has spent much of her life in hospital.
Her condition meant she was registered blind, had poor growth, balance issues and needed two people holding her hands to help her walk.
She also had severe bowel problems and could not use the toilet herself.
The technique the doctors in China used is referred to as IV, where the stem cells are injected intravenously into her bloodstream. They then repair the damaged cells.
After just three weeks of stem cell treatment she can now see, her eyes are tracking together for the first time, and she is able to recognise people and objects without touching them.
She can also walk with just one parent holding her hand, and is using the toilet easily without the help of medication.
In their search for help for Dakota, the family exhausted the medical options in the UK before setting up a fund and raising £30,000 for the treatment.
They eventually found a clinic in China run by Beike Biotech, an American research company contracted to provide experimental stem cells for treatment at twenty-four hospitals in China.
Jon Hakim, its head of communications said: “We didn’t think IV alone could make such dramatic improvements. But Dakota’s experiences are making us completely rethink our use of IV.”
Only about 15 people worldwide have tried the new treatment in China for Dakota’s condition.
The first was five-year-old American girl, Rylea Bartlett, who was completely blind before July 2007, but now is able to read the top line of letters in an eye test.
Dr Tom Liu, a stem cell specialist and director of the centre, is planning a breakthrough medical report on its work in collaboration with UCLA to be published later this year.
He said: “We are very impressed with Dakota’s progress so far and hope further tests will reveal further improvements.
“The use of stem cells taken from the umbilical chord is completely safe. As we learn more about the way these cells work our results are getting better and better.”
Doctors in the UK have expressed concerns that the treatment is unproven and may not have lasting effects.[Read the full article here]