- (AFP) - A South Korean woman paralyzed for 20 years is
walking again after scientists say they repaired her damaged spine using
stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.
- Hwang Mi-Soon, 37, had been bedridden since damaging
her back in an accident two decades ago.
- Last week her eyes glistened with tears as she walked
again with the help of a walking frame at a press conference where South
Korea researchers went public for the first time with the results of their
- They said it was the world's first published case in
which a patient with spinal cord injuries had been successfully treated
with stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
- Though they cautioned that more research was needed and
verification from international experts was required, the South Korean
researchers said Hwang's case could signal a leap forward in the treatment
of spinal cord injuries.
- The use of stem cells from cord blood could also point
to a way to side-step the ethical dispute over the controversial use of
embryos in embryonic stem-cell research.
- "We have glimpsed at a silver lining over the horizon,"
said Song Chang-Hoon, a member of the research team and a professor at
Chosun University's medical school in the southwestern city of Kwangju.
- "We were all surprised at the fast improvements
in the patient."
- Under TV lights and flashing cameras, Hwang stood up
from her wheelchair and shuffled forward and back a few paces with the
help of the frame at the press conference here on Thursday.
- "This is already a miracle for me," she said.
"I never dreamed of getting to my feet again."
- Medical research has shown stem cells can develop into
replacement cells for damaged organs or body parts. Unlocking that potential
could see cures for diseases that are at present incurable, or even see
the body generate new organs to replace damaged or failing ones.
- So-called "multipotent" stem cells -- those
found in cord blood -- are capable of forming a limited number of specialised
cell types, unlike the more versatile "undifferentiated" cells
that are derived from embroyos.
- However, these stem cells isolated from umbilical cord
blood have emerged as an ethical and safe alternative to embryonic stem
- Clinical trials with embryonic stem cells are believed
to be years away because of the risks and ethical problems involved in
the production of embryos -- regarded as living humans by some people --
for scientific use.
- In contrast, there is no ethical dimension when stem
cells from umbilical cord blood are obtained, according to researchers.
- Additionally, umbilical cord blood stem cells trigger
little immune response in the recipient as embryonic stem cells have a
tendency to form tumors when injected into animals or human beings.
- For the therapy, multipotent stem cells were isolated
from umbilical cord blood, which had been frozen immediately after the
birth of a baby and cultured for a period of time.
- Then these cells were directly injected to the damaged
part of the spinal cord.
- "Technical difficulties exist in isolating stem
cells from frozen umbilical cord blood, finding cells with genes matching
those of the recipient and selecting the right place of the body to deliver
the cells," said Han Hoon, president of Histostem, a government-backed
umbilical cord blood bank in Seoul.
- Han teamed up with Song and other experts for the experiment.
- They say that more experiments are required to verify
the outcome of the landmark therapy.
- "It is just one case and we need more experiments,
more data," said Oh Il-Hoon, another researcher.
- "I believe experts in other countries have been
conducting similar experiments and accumulating data before making the
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