CJD victim, 18, is first to undergo brain treatment

Surgeons operated yesterday on a teenager dying from variant CJD, the brain disease linked with eating BSE-infected beef, in preparation for the start of an experimental treatment aimed at arresting the fatal disease.

Jonathan Simms, 18, from Belfast, will become the first patient in the world to undergo the treatment when it begins next week. His family won the right to have him given the drug, pentosan polysulphate, after High Court hearings in London and Belfast. In December, a judge concluded any risk from the drug's use was acceptable as without treatment Jonathan, was certain to die.

The family said they believed the treatment was Jonathan's only chance. His father, Don Simms, said: "It's an experimental treatment but it's not for experiment for experiment's sake. We are relieved that we are here but at the same time we are quite frightened as we are stepping in to the unknown."

Surgeons placed an ommaya reservoir, a small plastic dome-like device, under Jonathan's scalp, with a small tube leading into the centre of his brain. The drug will be placed in the reservoir and infused slowly into the brain.

It has never been used to treat CJD in humans before, although it has been shown to slow the disease in animals. The judges decided that the chance of Jonathan deriving some benefit was worth the risk, despite warnings from medical specialists of the dangers.

A neurosurgeon has flown in to perform the operation at a Northern Ireland hospital. Neither can be named for legal reasons. Daily infusions of the drug are expected to begin on Monday and treatment is expected to be completed within two weeks.

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