A man has been thrown a possible miracle lifeline in his decade-long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Boldon man Paul George, 40, may be spared be a gruelling journey for overseas for treatment that could halt the disease after being invited to see specialists in London.
They are involved in a new programme offering Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) treatment on the National Health Service to MS sufferers.
Until recently, the treatment was mainly used to treat people with leukaemia, rather than MS.
At a believed cost of £120,000 per patient, access to the project is limited to those who fit within very specific health criteria.
Former construction worker Paul, of Wilton Garden, Boldon Colliery, will travel to meet doctors in November for an initial assessment.
He said: “It is, potentially, the miracle treatment I’ve been looking for. There is a chance I will be selected.
“The stem cell treatment is not a cure but it can halt the disease and lead to a much better quality of life.
“Other people who have undergone this treatment have seen astonishing results.
“I’ll meet with the doctor and he will assess me to see if he thinks I am suitable for further tests.”
He added: “I suspect I am at the outer limit of what the doctors are looking for, but I have to find out.
“It is a very new programme and I have to give it a go.
“Getting treatment in the UK is clearly preferable to having to go abroad.
“The prospect of being alone and in isolation overseas while my immune system recovers after any treatment is not something I would look forward.”
Paul’s supporters have raised £19,800 of a £40,000 target to fund HSCT treatment at centres in either Russia or Mexico, where it is more commonly used on MS sufferers.
In the UK, it is believed that only a handful of people with MS have been accepted onto the programme.
Criteria includes the distance a patient can walk and how far advanced their condition is.
During HSCT, stem cells are removed from blood rather than bone marrow, and harvested.
Those that remain are eradicated, with the harvested stem cells replanted and the patient kept in isolation for around two weeks while the body’s immune system repairs.
Paul was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago following tests after he developed blurred vision in his right eye.
The neurological condition affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, leading to loss of body function
With the aid of a stick, he can walk only 20m and relies on a wheelchair for longer distances.