Paralyzed South Korean Woman Walks Thanks to Adult Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 29, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Paralyzed South Korean Woman Walks Thanks to Adult Stem Cell Research Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Maria Vitale Gallagher Editor
November 29, 2004

Seoul, South Korea ( — A South Korean woman who was paralyzed for 20 years is walking again — thanks to adult stem cell research. The news is further evidence of the success scientists are having with the more ethical form of stem cells.

Thirty-seven-year-old Hwang Mi-Soon’s miracle cure came about as a result of stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood.

The woman wept as she walked at a news conference in which South Korean researchers revealed their stem cell success story.

While they conceded more research needs to be done, the team said Hwang’s case could be a leap forward in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

"We have glimpsed at a silver lining over the horizon," Song Chang-Hoon, a member of the research team, told the press. "We were all surprised at the fast improvements in the patient," he added.

Meanwhile, Hwang, who had been bedridden for two decades as a result of the injury to her back, told the media she considered her ability to walk a miracle.

"I never dreamed of getting to my feet again," she said.

This new adult stem cell development has raised more questions about the necessity of embryonic stem cell research, which has yielded little in the way of concrete results. Research using adult stem cells also does not involve the ethical problems posed by embryonic stem cell research, which involves the killing of human embryos.

Embryonic stem cells also have a tendency to form tumors when injected into animals or human beings — something that does not happen with adult stem cells.

While more than one hundred treatments have been developed using adult stem cells, no patients have been cured with embryonic stem cells after more than two decades of research.

The South Korean researchers say their experiment marks the first time adult stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood have been used successfully to treat a patient with spinal cord injuries.

Others suffering from paralysis have also been treated with adult stem cells.

Laura Dominguez and Susan Fajt, both of the United States, never thought they would walk again after near-fatal automobile accidents that left them paralyzed with severe spinal cord injuries. But, once they received treatments with their own adult stem cells, they were able to walk with the aid of braces.

Dominguez was a quadriplegic at the age of 16 after the accident, but treatment using her olfactory sinus stem cells helped her walk with braces. Fajt benefited from an experimental new adult stem cell treatment.

A dramatic video was shown to members of a Senate committee in July picturing Dominguez swimming without assistance thanks to the adult stem cell treatments.