A five-year-old girl with a rare brain disorder has started a pioneering stem cell treatment in China which her family hope will save her life.

Sacha Skinner, who lives with her mother Annette Dacosta and stepfather Graham Pearson in Firle Road, Brighton, suffers from Batten disease, an incurable illness which affects her nervous system.

Sacha cannot walk without help and is unable to talk. She is unlikely to live beyond the age of 12.

Her family have travelled to China, where Sacha is having stem cells injected into her spine.

They hope the controversial treatment will reverse the effects of the disease.

After a difficult journey to Shenyang in China, during which they were delayed by terror alerts at Heathrow, the family have settled in at the hospital and the treatment is progressing well.

Mrs Dacosta said: "Sacha was still asleep when Dr Wang and the nurses came to get her for her first stem cell injection."

Sacha was wheeled down to the operating theatre with Mr Pearson and Mrs Dacosta following.

Mrs Dacosta said: "I was nervous and a bit tearful and I just felt overwhelmed by all the strange faces crowding around to look at Sacha.

"I had to ask Graham to go in instead of me. Graham had to put a surgeon's gown and mask on and then they disappeared through the sliding doors."

The procedure lasted 40 minutes.

Mrs Dacosta said: "When they emerged Sacha was still fast asleep and I wished I had gone in to see the procedure.

Never mind, I'll go next time.

"Graham said it was very quick and simple and the doctors obviously knew what they were doing.

"Sacha then had to lie still on her back for four to six hours, which is difficult for a five-yearold to do at the best of times."

Following the stem cell injection, Sacha was given nerve growth factor through an intravenous drip to encourage the stem cells to grow.

Sacha is also having acupuncture sessions at the hospital.

On day four of her stay she had her first session with Dr Ge.

Mrs Dacosta said: "I had never seen acupuncture being performed on anyone in the flesh before and really wasn't sure what to expect.

"There were people walking around the room with needles sticking out of their faces but no one seemed to be in any pain or discomfort.

"Dr Ge asked me to lay Sacha down on a table in his room then proceeded to stick ten pins in her legs, arms and head. She didn't flinch at all, even though he seemed to stick some needles in more deeply than others.

"The needles were removed after ten minutes and Sacha was fine and didn't cry."

Later that day Sacha had a second nerve growth factor treatment. In the afternoon she developed a temperature.

Mrs Dacosta said: "I started to get a bit nervous as I thought this might be the first of the side effects of the stem cell therapy.

"Graham and I took her for a walk in the park across the road as there was a bit of a breeze blowing and we needed a change of scenery after being in the hospital for more than 24 hours without going outside.

"Sacha dozed on and off but you could see she was in a bit of discomfort. I tried not to worry too much or let my mind run away with unnecessary thoughts.

"By the time we got back for Sacha's physiotherapy at 3pm her temperature was back to normal and she was her usual self. I have no idea what caused the rise in temperature.

"Physio lasted one-and-threequarter hours and she had her legs, arms and back concentrated on.

"As Sacha loses her muscle co-ordination with the progression of Batten disease, her limbs either become stiff or very floppy and physio concentrates on her being able to use all her muscles correctly so she doesn't get a curved spine."

Sacha's father Neil Skinner will fly out halfway through the treatment to care for Sacha for the second half of her monthlong stay in China.

Sacha will have one stem cell injection each week for a month. She had 15 million stem cells injected into her spinal cord in the first injection.

After the treatment it is important for patients to lie still or they may get intense headaches and pains in their legs.

Sacha is believed to be the first child in the world to be treated with Lumbar puncture for Batten disease with umbilical cord stem cells.