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Some months ago Korean researchers claimed to have allowed a paraplegic of 19 years, a 37-year-old woman, to walk again with a treatment that included an injection of umbilical cord stem cells into the injured area. At first I welcomed this development with open arms, then since nothing was appearing in a peer-reviewed medical journal I became skeptical. Well, it's appeared. Specifically, it's in the latest issue (Sept. 2005) of Cytotherapy. "The patient could move her hips and feel her hip skin on day 15 after transplantation," wrote the researchers. "On day 25 after transplantation her feet responded to stimulation. On post operative day (POD) 7, motor activity was noticed and improved gradually in her lumbar paravertebral and hip muscles." She could soon maintain an upright position by herself. "41 days after [stem cell] transplantation" testing "also showed regeneration of the spinal cord at the injured site" and below it.
At a press conference, the woman demonstrated that she could walk with the help of a walking frame.
My thanks to Wesley J. Smith for bringing this to my attention, and he cautiously notes "one patient" doesn't equal "treatment." I also remain a bit skeptical because after 19 years, no matter how much physical therapy you get, your muscles atrophy to mush. A perfect repair of the spine can't overcome this although with enough time and effort a person could get her muscles back in shape. But we know that similar results in spinal repair have come from animal experiments. Whatever happens in this case, adult stem cells will eventually allow those with paralysis to walk again.