A South Korean woman who was paralyzed for 20 years was able to walk again during a press conference last week in which scientists revealed some extent of their success in repairing her damaged spine using adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.
Although the scientists agreed more research was needed to be done to verify the results, they told reporters 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.
Hwang Mi-Soon, 37, had damaged her lower back in a car accident in 1985 and had been confined to her bed or a wheelchair ever since.
A group of South Korean scientists isolated stem cells from umbilical cord blood and injected them into the spinal cord on Oct 12. Mi-Soon was able to move her hips within two weeks of the operation and eventually her feet responded to stimulation 25 days later.
She can now walk with the aid of a walking frame.
"This is already a miracle for me," she said. "I never dreamed of getting to my feet again."
The team was led by Prof Song Chang-hun of Chosun university, Prof Kang Kyung-sun of Seoul National University and Dr Han Hoon from the Seoul Cord Blood Bank (SCB).
"We have glimpsed a silver lining over the horizon," said Prof Chang-hun. "We were all surprised at the fast improvements in the patient."
Groups that oppose embryonic stem cell research because it results in the destruction of human life have repeatedly pointed to adult stem cells as not only the ethical alternative but also as the more promising.
Embryonic stem cell research in mice has resulted in tumors while the National Institute of Health reported that the use of adult stem cells have led to cures and treatments for 45 diseases, including diabetes.
Stem cell research using human embryos was a controversial issue during the elections and earned wide support from famous figures such as Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed after falling off a horse, and Nancy Reagan, wife of former President Ronald Reagan, who had Alzheimers disease. Scientists who pushed for embryonic stem cell research claimed more money for further research could potentially lead to cures and treatments for such diseases although none has up to date been found. These claims helped pass a $3 billion-initiative in California that funds embryonic stem cell research.
Meanwhile, conservative groups are tallying Mi-Soons case as a win for adult stem cell research.
In what will likely be a recurring theme, the pro-life community can say to supporters of embryonic stem cell research, we told you so, Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said in his daily e-mail update. There is now walking evidence that there is no justification for destroying embryos for failed science, much less using taxpayer money for embryonic stem cell research.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of the Concerned Women for Americas Beverly LaHaye Institute, shared the same optimism for adult stem cell research in an article published on the CWA Web site.
"The South Korean breakthrough is just the first of many miracles to come from the 'multipotent' umbilical-cord stem cells, she said.
She added, "I am especially pleased that the South Korean researchers acknowledged that there are ethical problems associated with embryonic stem-cell therapy. Their breakthrough is another instance of the miracles we are seeing from the use of legitimate adult and umbilical-cord stem-cell therapy."
Other religious figures such as Passion of the Christ Director Mel Gibson and Focus on the Familys Dr. James Dobson also support adult stem cell research while rejecting embryonic stem cell research for ethical reasons.