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MS sufferer seeks stem cell remedy

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  • MS sufferer seeks stem cell remedy

    MS sufferer seeks stem cell remedy

    Multiple sclerosis-hit Rob Hodgson knows he could some day walk again. But it will cost him £12,000 and involve a trip to a Dutch clinic for controversial stem cell treatment that is not available in the United Kingdom. Dave Mark reports.
    FOR years Rob Hodgson was a fit and healthy father-of-three, a keen footballer and golfer known for his knack of making workmates laugh while slogging through his day's work as an electrician at BAE Systems in Brough, near Hull.
    Today, he jokes, he is only half the man he used to be. The right-hand side of his body is effectively dead. He is confined to a wheelchair, and has been for 18 months. If he concentrates so hard that he begins to tremble, he can eventually rotate his left ankle. To move his left leg, he needs to use his left hand and crane his neck to the left.
    It is six years since doctors diagnosed him with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, and in that time he has become a stranger in his own body. Unable to work, he has spent more and more time on his computer at his home in Elloughton, taking prescription pills that have done little to ease his condition - and praying for a miracle.
    Mr Hodgson found what he was looking for in the unlikeliest of places. A Merseyside newspaper had carried a story on a Liverpool woman with a similar condition to his own who had saved enough cash to attend a private clinic in Rotterdam, where she underwent stem cell treatment. Within hours, she was walking again, and taking the first tentative steps towards a normal life.
    He is now hoping to follow in her footsteps. He has been pencilled in for the procedure at the Dutch clinic in September, but first needs to raise the £12,000 fee. Because of the experimental nature of the treatment – where cells from such sources as umbilical cords from newborn babies are injected into the body – it is unavailable in the UK or on the NHS.
    Mr Hodgson and his friends and family are now desperately trying to raise the cash that will allow him to undergo a procedure that has already changed the lives of several MS sufferers who have managed to afford the trip.
    He told the Yorkshire Post: "It's hard to put into words how you feel when you find out there's something out there that can put you back on your feet and hand you your life back, but that you can't get it in your own country where you pay your taxes and try and lead a decent life, and where you can get a sex change operation on the NHS but not an operation that will let you walk again.
    "But you can't harp on about it. You've just got to fight and do it on your own. Because of the condition I've got, I won't get better on my own and I might not have the years it will take for the NHS to approve this treatment so this is what you have to do."
    Mr Hodgson is indeed grateful he has had his health and mobility for so long. It was only as he turned 50 he began to struggle.
    "About seven years ago I started to limp, but put it down to getting on a bit and all the knocks from football. Then in 1999 I started to lose the strength in my right hand. I couldn't pull the wires out the wall when i was doing a job at work, so I went to my doctor.
    "He signed me off work and after a few meetings, he sent me for an MRI scan, which looks at the brain and spinal cord and for damage on the nerves.
    "When he got the results he told me I had MS. I didn't even know what it was – I thought it meant Marks & Spencer. He said he thought it might have been a brain tumour as well, and I knew that didn't sound too good, so I had my fingers crossed for the MS. It turns out you can get shot of a brain tumour a lot easier these days, so I picked the wrong one I reckon."
    MS is caused by the immune system attacking the body's tissue and destroying nerves, creating problems with concentration, memory and mobility. There is no known cure, but stem cell therapy is one of the treatments being researched.
    The process involves taking stem cells from sources such as the umbilical cords of newborn babies or foetuses, then purifying them and injecting them into the patient. In theory, the cells build and repair the nervous system, but there are fears the MS could also attack the new cells.
    Mr Hodgson said: "I have to try. Just to be able to go for a stroll or hold my grandchild in both arms would be worth every penny I could find."
    Helen Yates, of the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre, said stem cells were "an exciting new avenue to explore", but warned there were no guarantees.
    A Department of Health spokesman said: "This Government is investing £100m into research over the next two years.
    "However, many treatments are still experimental and it is important their safety is established before they are available on the NHS."
    06 March 2006