By Bae Ji-sook
Scores of lawmakers, high-ranking officials and entertainers, among others, are suspected of having received illegal stem cell injection treatments here.
Some of them have allegedly received treatment at bargain prices in exchange for pushing for the deregulation of clinical tests.
According to MBC News Desk, a total of 8,000 patients have received stem cell injections so far at various medical facilities including two hospitals in Japan and China under the arrangement of RNL Bio, a company that extracts adult stem cells from human fat then cultivates and stores them. The recipients had various diseases ranging from liver failure to diabetes, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, renal failure and hyperthyroid syndromes to ovarian tumors.
However, what they received was the same — an injection of adult stem cells into their bloodstreams.
RNL has reportedly promoted that “a person who could not wake up can walk after the injection.” It also lured patients by saying that the shots could rejuvenate their skin and body functions to that of their 20s and 30s.
The broadcaster said the treatments were conducted in hospitals around Seoul. The price of the treatment varied from 7 million won to tens of millions of won per session.
The company head Rah Jeong-chan denied the report saying they do not arrange for domestic treatment, which is prohibited. However, he admitted that overseas the practice is inevitable. “If our client asks for the stem cell treatment, we must give them what they want. The stem cell injection is considered a high-medical technology allowed to patients under the strict monitoring of doctors in Japan,” he said.
However, the Japanese health authorities denied the allegation saying the treatment is unacceptable in every way. They said the practice is a highly risky one and should be restricted in Japan. In China, the practice is in the clinical trial stage.
The largest problem is the various side effects associated with the practice.
Though there are some studies that indicate adult stem cell injections may be partially effective in myocardial infarction and some immune system-related diseases, the rest remains unknown, experts say.
There have been reports that the practice may result in cancer and other health problems. In tests on animals, 25 to 40 percent of tested mice died of pulmonary artery embolism.
The Korean Medical Association said, “The field yet remains a mystery and we haven’t figured out its exact effects, safety, side effects and even the right dosage. It could result in serious problems.”
Dr. Ju Geon of the Korean Neurological Association denounced it by saying, “It is the same as abusing drugs. It should be regulated.”
In fact, the two cases of death were reported at the National Assembly earlier last month by Rep. Joo Seung-yong of the largest opposition Democratic Party. However, he told MBC that he was pressured not to talk about the issue in public by fellow politicians.
Whether it was a coincidence or not, some lawmakers, including those on the recipient list, have filed a revision bill easing regulations on stem cell practice and research.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare swiftly vowed to investigate the case.