Modern medicine has grown by leaps and bounds during the past 100 years. If you look back on the treatments, medical equipment and medications that were available in the beginning of the 20th century, the differences between then and now can be hard to believe. Countries around the world have contributed to the advancement of the medical field. China, however, is a forerunner when it comes to medical breakthroughs.
For thousands of years, the Chinese used herbs, acupuncture and massage therapy in their treatment of various sicknesses and ailments. Today, China is making huge strides in the development and advancement of modern medicine. Stem cell research is one of the country’s latest projects and the results look promising. The country’s treatment of paralysis using stem cell treatment has captured the attention of medical facilities worldwide. In addition to assisting people who are living with paralysis, stem cell research offers hope for patients with Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, optic nerve dysfunction and brain damage. In the case of those who are disabled, the goal is to help people regain the use of their limbs and function without the assistance of mobility devices. In the interim, accessibility aids like canes, stair lifts, wheelchairs, power chairs and wheelchair accessible vans are available to make daily life easier for the differently abled.
China’s progress in stem cell treatment is encouraging for paralyzed patients and others. Because similar treatment is not readily available in the United States, China attracts millions of medical tourists each year. Much of the country’s success in providing some hope for people living with conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s disease have come from patient testimonials of remarkable improvement following stem cell therapy.
The newest development in China surrounds the work of Dr. Huang Hongyun, a neurosurgeon in Beijing whose work has met with some controversy. He spent several years working alongside scientists in the United States during the late 1990s and early 2000s before returning to chair the neurosurgery department at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing. Hongyun published a paper in 2003 outlining his medical breakthroughs. In the paper and subsequent interviews, he reported growing ensheathing olfactory cells from four-month old aborted fetuses. He transplanted more than half a million of these cells into each damaged spinal cord in more than 300 patients, including Americans. Hongyun reported improvements in as little as two days with no recorded adverse reactions. When asked how much his patients gained, he replied, “Any improvement is a bonus.” Although his tests did not establish long-term results, Hongyung believed that a complete cure for chronic injury is impossible for his procedure or any other surgery to produce.
Medical and scientific professionals met Hongyun’s findings with skepticism. Other doctors around the world and in the United States tried similar procedures in far fewer patients with limited results. They argued that the cells used typically do not grow as rapidly as Hongyun claims, yet scientists are able to grow stem cells from olfactory bulbs and even from basic skin cells. With this technology, patients may soon be able to undergo surgery that heals cancer, Alzheimer’s, paralysis and other physically debilitating illnesses. Western doctors, including professionals who worked with Hongyun, caution patients to consider the risks involved in undergoing untested treatment. However, stem cell therapy and similar procedures abound in China, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries. In an attempt to monitor similar procedures and ban any unproven and unauthorized procedures, Chinese officials recently asked hospitals and medical organizations to stop stem cell activities. They have been tasked with registering their research before proceeding with new clinical trials in order to protect patients. Despite these restrictions and warnings, many patients jump at the chance to receive life-changing surgeries abroad.
Medical tourism has risen dramatically as medical procedures evolve. The United States alone has more than 300,000 patients with spinal cord injuries. For people who struggle with limited mobility, stem cell research and advancing technology gives them the hope. In the near future, medicine may very well reverse spinal cord injuries and cure paralysis, ALS, cancer and other physical ailments. Until that day, medical scientists in China lead the world in providing cutting edge stem cell treatment and hope for everyone.