An Australian man paralysed from the neck down in a sporting accident 14 years ago has claimed he can breathe again unaided for the first time after having stem cell treatment in India.
Perry Cross is the highest profile patient so far to claim success for the treatment offered by a medical centre in south Delhi which, if true, would represent a remarkable breakthrough.
However, his claims have not been authenticated by other medical experts and details of his treatment have not been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Mr Cross met the actor Christopher Reeve, who was similarly injured until his death in 2004, and became his ambassador for stem cell research in Australia, appearing regularly on radio and TV and speaking at the UN.
Mr Cross was left quadriplegic after an accident playing rugby when he was 19 and has been dependent on a ventilator ever since. But after treatment at the Delhi clinic run by Dr Geeta Shroff, he has apparently been able to discard the machine that has been his lifeline.
"After 14 years of no change at all since my accident, I can now breathe on my own," he told Sky News yesterday. "You know you put your lottery numbers in each week and I feel by coming here my lottery numbers have finally come up."
Sky News yesterday broadcast footage showing him moving around the clinic in a motorised chair and travelling down a Delhi street. But it was not possible to tell whether he was permanently free of the ventilator, or needed to return to it at intervals.
Dr Shroff, who claims to have developed her stem cell treatment alone, starting in a small lab set up in her garage, has aroused the ire of the international medical establishment because she has refused to reveal details of the treatment or to publish her results. Instead, she has applied for a patent.
Critics say there is no way of assessing her work, or even verifying that she is treating her patients with embryonic stem cells as she claims. They warn that there is a disturbing trend for clinics around the world to promote stem cell treatment as a miracle cure, charging large sums, and rely on the placebo effect for their "success".
Quadriplegic patients are desperate, vulnerable and eager to believe they are making progress, however slight – especially if they have invested time, money and effort in travelling halfway across the world for treatment. Their carers are equally anxious not to disappoint them. A member of Mr Cross's team said that the progress made by his charge was "massive".
"We have tried so many times over the years to get him off the ventilator but never could. It's amazing," he told Sky News.
Previous patients who have sought treatment at the clinic include Sonia Smith, 46, an Australian mother of three children, who broke her back in a car accident three years ago. Mrs Smith claimed last year to have begun walking with callipers following the treatment, after being told by doctors in Brisbane she would never walk again.
Dr Shroff has angrily dismissed claims that she is exploiting patients. "How dare scientists around the world refer to this as the placebo effect? They are rubbishing my work without seeing my patients," she told The Observer last year. She came up with an Alice-in-Wonderland defence of her refusal to publish her results. She said: "Peer review – what is that? Review by people who understand what you are doing. But no one understands what I am doing because I am the first."Reuse content