Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeNewsExploiting Paralysis 101

Exploiting Paralysis 101

| Source: seoulcord.co.kr

Hwang Mi-soon was paralyzed from the hips down for 19 years when, in 2004, South Korean researchers implanted umbilical-cord stem cells in her spinal cord. The experimental surgery led to a visually dramatic recovery.

She showed off her new ability to walk, with the help of braces, at a Nov. 25, 2004 press conference. The anti-embryonic stem-cell research crowd loved it. The results were a giant step toward proving that embryonic stem cells were unnecessary, they said. Umbilical-cord stem cells were relatively easy to get and free of the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells. (This research is unrelated to that of the recently discredited South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk.)

“The pro-life community can say to supporters of embryonic stem-cell research, we told you so,” wrote Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in his Nov. 29, 2004 “Washington Update,” in response to Hwang’s recovery.

When Hwang’s surgery was published in the Sept. 2005 issue of Cytotherapy (“In this case report, we have shown that umbilical cord blood-derived multipotent stem cells improved the condition … of an SPI patient who had suffered for about 20 years,” the authors wrote), the frenzy’s intensity increased.

Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute blogged propagandistically about the results, saying the treatment “offers tremendous hope for paralyzed patients.” He also suggested the results were ignored by the American press because the media is only interested in embryonic stem-cell research: “Can you imagine the headlines if the cells used had been embryonic?”

Encouraged by her improvements, Hwang agreed to a second treatment, with dreams of permanently leaving her wheelchair, walker and braces behind. Unfortunately, the second surgery was not followed by a press conference. Hwang’s optimism was replaced by debilitating and severe pain.

An observation that appeared toward the end of the published study might explain the second surgery’s failure: “However, we cannot exclude the act of Laminectomy, which can release compressed areas of the spinal cord, because we have reported on only one case study,” the authors wrote.

Compression occurs when bone presses against the spinal cord, and can be directly responsible for neurological deficits. Decompression of the spinal cord, even after an extended period of time, can result in Functional improvements. Hwang Mi-soon had a degree of compression in her lower back, which was addressed during the initial surgery.

As noted by the authors, Hwang’s recovery may have been a result of this decompression and not some unidentified mechanism mediated by umbilical-cord-blood stem cells. In the end, the authors chose to delay further speculation until more data was available from future trial participants.

Perkins and Smith both downplayed this possibility, while the authors treated it as a redheaded stepchild they were not fond of (being a redhead, I can say that).

With the mechanism of action unclear, one doctor who preferred to remain anonymous told the Korean publication JoongAng Ilbo that he was unsure whether a second stem-cell treatment would be beneficial. “It was difficult to expect a good result from her, but we performed the procedure at Seoul Cord Bank’s request,” he told the paper. “I am sorry that I did not turn it down at the time.” Histostem, the company behind Hwang’s stem-cell therapy, also runs the Seoul Cord Bank.

Sadly, Hwang’s story is just one of many that have been shamelessly exploited during the course of the adult-versus-embryonic stem-cell battle. (Laura Dominguez, Susan Fajt and Christopher Reeve are three other paralyzed individuals whose stories have been similarly exploited by one side or the other throughout the tiresome debate.)

I hope you will forgive my hypocrisy, as I join those who exploit Hwang’s situation. But, in this case, I really don’t think she would mind.

To the Family Research Council’s credit, they immediately corrected their Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Fact Sheet when I told them about the adverse effects of Hwang Mi-soon’s second round of treatment.

While I am sure Hwang appreciates their prompt response, I think she would prefer if the Family Research Council and other groups who used her story to their advantage joined with researchers to finally cure paralysis. Going a step further, I bet she wouldn’t care if the cure came from a non-embryonic source, as long as it gets here.

I wish Hwang Mi-soon the best, and hope she finds a pain-management routine that allows her to regain her life. To those who took advantage of her: Paralysis still exists. Where are those “cures” of which you speak?

– – –
Steven Edwards is a redheaded, redbearded, partially Ventilator-dependent quadriplegic looking to trade in his wheels for the use of his legs. He hails from South Carolina.

By Steven Edwards

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

- Advertisment -

Must Read

Managing Pressure Injuries – Free Course on Cortree from SCIO

Pressure injuries are a health concern for many people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. As we age, our level of mobility and...