The treatment is also available in Ecuador, Russia and Ukraine, where it was developed by scientists to treat Parkinson's disease and blood disorders. But converts claim that wrinkles can be ironed out and the fresh face of youth restored.

"It is the most natural form of healing there is," said Barnett Suskind, chief executive of the Institute of Regenerative Medicine (IRM) in Barbados. "You think better, sleep better, look better. Your quality of life improves and your libido certainly improves."

Christine Roberts, 57, would agree. She flew to the clinic in Barbados in May for the treatment. "A lot of people say my skin is better," she said. "I do feel 10 years younger."

There is consensus within the scientific community that stem cells could revolutionise medicine.

Normally taken from lab-created embryos, the young cells have the potential to turn into different types of healthy cells, enabling doctors to treat a range of illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease.

The Barbados clinic's claims are based on the theory that this process can be used for cosmetic purposes. It takes stem cells from aborted foetuses that have gestated for six to 12 weeks, and injects these into the patient's arm. According to the institute, the new cells may search out damaged and dead cells in the body and work to repair and replace them.

But doctors at the IRM admit they are not yet sure how this happens. Mr Suskind said: "The stem cells either call on the body's reserve of healing cells which replace and repair the damaged cells, or they themselves replace and repair the damaged cells."

But Dr Stephen Minger, the director of the King's College London stem-cell biology laboratory, said Mr Suskind's claims are not based on scientific evidence. The centre has yet to carry out controlled clinical trials that would shed light on the efficacy and safety of the procedure, said Dr Minger. "There is no way to judge if they have any clinical basis for this. I am highly, highly sceptical ... There is no reputable data out there. It is all worrysome."

The use of tissue from aborted foetuses has also raised ethical worries. But Mr Suskind said he was "100 per cent sure" the treatment would be available in Britain "within five years". He added that the IRM would publish results of clinical trials in a "highly respected medical journal" by next year, and said the process had been analysed by leading stem-cell biologists in Britain and the United States.

A HAPPY CLIENT

'It's worth it... I feel 10 years younger'

Stem-cell therapy could be dangerous, some biologists warn, but that doesn't deter those who long to feel young and vibrant again Christine Roberts, a 57-year-old housewife from Knightsbridge, west London, was, by her own admission, starting to feel her age. "My skin looked a bit tired," she said. "I felt I needed a shot in the arm. There was nothing wrong with me. I just needed a feel-good thing."

But instead of reaching for the skin creams, Mrs Roberts flew to Barbados for a £15,000 stem-cell treatment at the Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

"I was booked into a very comfortable hotel room, lay down on the bed and had a saline drip inserted into my veins. Then a large syringe full of stem cells was attached to a needle and it was slowly put into the arm.

"When it was over I sat in a hotel room, read my book and had a cup of tea. Then I had a bath, got dressed and went for dinner. The whole thing only took an hour and a half. I did not feel ill - I just sat there chatting as it happened.

"I felt better the next morning, I felt perky, but it takes about three months to really feel the effects. It's been five months now and it feels so good.

"If you have got the money it is worth it. My skin is so much better. It is more vital, more energetic. I have been sleeping so much better. My body is more toned. A lot of people say my skin is better. My eyes are sparkling. Everyone thinks I have just been on holiday.

"I know it's a cliché, but I do feel 10 years younger."

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