A SIX-YEAR-OLD boy is thought to be the first child in Britain to be cured of a disease thanks to a transplant from a "designer" sibling.
The child, who was unlikely to live past 30 because of a rare blood disorder, has been cured by a transplant of red blood cells from a baby brother born to save him.
Charlie Whitaker's remarkable recovery, thought to be only one of five such cases in the world, is seen as a major step forward in stem cell treatment and offers new hope to others.
His parents, Michelle and Jayson, received initial treatment, including IVF, from the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London.
But a ruling by Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) meant the couple were forced to go to Chicago to complete the procedure.
The screening process known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is deemed a vital part of the procedure as it enables a perfect match. But it was banned in Britain until recently because the HFEA said there were no tests to ensure it would not harm the embryo. The ruling came as critics raised ethical concerns.
In 2002, two three-day-old embryos were implanted in Mrs Whitaker, who is from Derbyshire. Last June, she gave birth to Jamie, a perfect genetic match for his brother. It meant stem cells from the baby's umbilical cord could be used to treat Charlie, who suffers from Diamond Blackfan Anaemia.
Minutes after he was born doctors "harvested" the cells from his umbilical cord, but the family faced a six-month wait to ensure Jamie did not suffer from the same condition.
Three months on from the transplant at Sheffield Children's Hospital, tests on Charlie's bone marrow show very promising results. Mohamed Taranissi, director of the Assisted Reproductionand Gynaecology Centre, said Charlie had been transformed by the stem cell treatment.
Sufferers of the condition do not produce enough red cells.
Charlie's treatment included blood transfusions every three weeks and painful 12-hour injections of steroids into his stomach five nights a week to stay alive.
Mr Taranissi said: "All the indications now are that he is almost cured.
It's very positive news. Charlie's in very good spirits and is almost back to normal.
He does not have to be in hospital to have transfusions and does not need injections every night. He can just be a normal boy."
Mr Taranissi said his centre had now been given the go-ahead to treat three couples who will become the first to have the entire treatment in Britain.
HFEA spokeswoman Vishnee Seenundun said: "Part of our role is to be precautionary and look at the evidence and decide whether these treatments are right for the parents and the children."
(c)2004. Associated Newspapers Ltd.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.