Page last updated at 06:45 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Stem cell hope for blind toddler

Joshua will have five weeks' treatment in China with umbilical cord stem cells

The family of a toddler who was born blind are hoping a course of cutting-edge stem cell therapy in China could let some light into his life.

Sixteen-month-old Joshua Clark, from Caernarfon, Gwynedd, was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and his parents were told no treatment was available.

Joanna and Anthony Clark found the Chinese therapy after doing research via the internet.

An auction to help fund the 40,000 op was held on Thursday and raised 8,160.

Joshua's grandfather Dr Kevin Doughty said his wife, Gill, a nurse who worked on an eye ward, first noticed when Joshua was three months old that his eyes did not react in the way she expected.

"It was a slow job to get the medics involved. It took a long time to get the tests that showed what he had," Dr Doughty told the BBC Wales News website.

When Joshua was six months, he was finally given a diagnosis.

His father Anthony said: "They explained the situation and said there was nothing they could do for us.

ONH is a congenital condition caused by underdevelopment of the optic nerve
It can cause anything from mild light sensitivity to total blindness
Can be part of a disorder known as septo-optic dysplasia

"We weren't very happy with that, and about a week later we started looking it up on the internet. We were talking to people in America particularly, people who had had the treatment but also medics who knew about it."

They launched a fundraising campaign to enable Joshua to undergo treatment at Hangzhou, near Shanghai, and have so far raised 24,500 towards the 40,000 needed.

The family will fly to China at the end of April and will spend five weeks accompanied by various relatives at different times while Joshua undergoes treatment with umbilical cord stem cells.

When he returns he will need daily treatment for a year in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber which has been installed at the family's home in order to maximise the effect of the therapy.

The family is not hoping for miracles. They know Joshua is unlikely to have normal vision, but they hope he will be able to detect light, differentiate between night and day and see colours and objects.

Mr Clark said: "We're hoping that he can see something, light and shapes and some distance in front of him.

"We're just hoping that we may get something from it. It may not work, and it's hard to take so you don't want to go out with too many expectations."

'Stronger relationship'

He believes the family has been drawn more closely together as a result of their experiences.

"I think it's made myself and Joanna's relationship stronger," he said.

The auction, organised by neighbours of the Clarks, is being held at the Celtic Royal Hotel in Caernarfon on Thursday night.

No-one from the UK is believed to have undergone stem cell therapy for ONH in China but two girls from Northern Ireland are due to go prior to Joshua.

Glamour model Jordan's son Harvey was born with the condition.

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