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Stem cell op in China abandoned
Imogen James
Imogen James has a condition known as Optic Nerve Hypoplasia

The parents of a girl with sight problems have given up plans to take their daughter to China for stem cell therapy.

Lauren and Nick James' daughter Imogen suffers from an underdeveloped optic nerve which makes her virtually blind.

Her parents believed this treatment would work miracles on their daughter's sight.

They raised over £28,000 to pay for the operation but will now return the money and give the rest to charity.

'Doing fantastic'

Imogen James was born with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia which is congenital condition (i.e. present at birth). It means that Imogen is virtually blind and can only see things if they are extremely close to her.

Lauren first heard about the stem cell treatment a year ago which filled her with hope.

"A year ago we met with Dakota Clark's family who'd just been to China for stem cell therapy and they had given rave reviews, [saying] how fantastic it was and how Dakota had started walking, her eyesight was better, her speech was better and she was doing fantastic.

"I'll admit at the time I thought, 'wow this is unbelievable' so that gave us the boost."

Stem cell therapy aims to replace or repair damaged cells but according to the NHS ''the range of diseases where stem cell treatment is proven treatment option is still quite small''.

They needed to raise £30,000 to pay for the operation and the flights to China.

After raising £28,000 in a matter of months, the family was all set to go ahead and had booked flights for December 2009.

But then the doubts set in.

"Obviously during that time we were doing a lot of research ourselves but the more and more we dug into the stem cell therapy the more answers I wasn't finding.

"I was finding a lot of questions, but I wasn't finding any answers and unfortunately the company we were going to see in China, they were sort of evasive with the answers in a way, but I found out from speaking to doctors in the UK that they don't have the answers either - no-one has."

The treatment itself involves using an intravenous drip to feed the stem cells into the body, or by using a lumbar puncture .

'Factually scientific-minded'

For Lauren and Nick, this treatment was too much of a risk.

The couple cancelled their flights, and will return all the donations and divide the remainder between two registered charities, the Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Balidon Centre in Yeovil which is Imogen's special needs nursery.

"I'm more of a factually scientific minded person and I had to get this right in my head, I had to understand what was going to happen.

"The doctors in the UK that I had spoken to agreed. With Imogen's ophthalmologist, I explained what they did and the look on his face was a picture when I told him they just inject them randomly, and he just looked at me and almost laughed at me and sort of said that's your answer then, it just doesn't make sense at all."

Since making their decision, Imogen has made progress, she can walk a few steps unaided, and her speech is improving.

"It's unbelievable the advances she has made in the last couple of months, it's just out of this world and the problem is if we went to China we would have thought it's the stem cells that did that, it just happens to be that we had waited."

The company which offers stem cell treatment, Bieke Europe, has been contacted for a comment but has so far declined to comment.

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