First Patient Is Injected With Embryonic Stem Cell Treatment

By Eliza Strickland | October 12, 2010 11:33 am

embryonic-stem-cellsYes, it’s a milestone. The first federally approved trial of an embryonic stem cell therapy has begun, and the first patient with a spinal cord injury has been injected with a treatment made from embryonic stem cells. But if all goes well with the trial, conducted by the biotech company Geron, there won’t be any dramatic results–the trial is simply intended to test the treatment’s safety, and patients will receive very low doses of the stem cell concoction.

The patient, whose name was not disclosed, is enrolled at the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation center in Atlanta; the company has said it plans to enroll 8 to 10 patients in the study at sites around the country. Even if all goes well in the early-stage study, the treatment faces many years of testing for effectiveness before it could be approved as a therapy for spinal injuries. [New York Times]

For the trial, which gained final approval in August, Geron is working with a technique pioneered by the neurobiologist Hans Keirstead, who licensed the technology to Geron.

Keirstead’s team managed first to turn human embryonic stem cells into oligodendrocytes, the cells that insulate nerve fibers with coatings of fatty myelin. Growing the “tubing” that protects nerve cells could in many cases be enough to allow signals to travel up and down the spine again, Keirstead said. That’s because, in the vast majority of spinal cord injuries, the cord is not completely severed — rather, the myelin sheath that protects the nerve cells is damaged or destroyed. [Los Angeles Times]

In studies conducted on rats with injured spinal cords, the treatment restored some mobility in the rats’ hind legs, giving them some ability to walk again. But even if Geron’s trial passes the safety test with flying colors, no one can predict how much the treatment may help humans.

A side note: Geron didn’t receive any federal financing for this trial, so it won’t be affected by the ongoing lawsuit challenging the use of human embryonic stem cells in scientific research.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • megan

    As a science loving fool, to me use of human cells from non-consenting sources is so much Soylent Green cannibalism already starting by an over-populating species desperate to escape mortality by the living on the bodies of the weak-powerless not yet ‘alive’ or the dead/dying of their own species.
    But we ARE a scavenger species at the core highly evolved thinking intelligent parasites and I’m a disgusted member, like a vampire who refuses to drink blood.

  • jonathan

    I guess you would refuse to accept blood from others if you needed surgery?

    The use of embryos in this case is not to increase our life span but used to repair damage to spinal cord injuries allowing those who are paralyzed to lead productive lives.

    The embryos that are used are discarded from fertility clinics. So you can throw them away or use them to help others.

    Since the human female naturally discards her own embryo once a month your weak and powerless part of your comment is not valid.

  • David

    Geron’s share price has increased and the trial has been started just before the mid-terms, helpfully reminding voters of an issue that worked for the Democrats in the Presidential election. Commercial and political interests have been furthered.

    However, ESCs produce tumors as has been demonstrated repeatedly in animal studies and shamefully, by the casualties of unregulated ‘stem cell tourism’ to places where ESC ‘therapy’ is offered.

    Geron is using ESCs to make progenitor cells which are then injected. They are convinced from rat studies of the purity of the sample (i.e. that the danger of tumor-inducing ESCs being present is negligible). Nevertheless this is a first in human test of a technology that is potentially hazardous and yet Geron has (last thing I heard) resisted doing tests on anything larger than a rat.

    In 2005 Keirstead argued that ‘some scientists believe’ that the rodent is a better model for human stem cells than other the primates model. At a presentation I attended in London in July 2009 Dr Jane Lebkowski (Chief SO at Geron) was still refusing to admit the need to look at anything larger than a rat before moving to human trials.

    Even if ES cells had no other ethical problem (if for example IPS or something similar do prove to be functionally equivalent) I believe it would be unethical to do FIH research without testing safety with primates. If, God forbid, anything goes wrong in this trial then the blame will lie squarely with the commercial and political interests that pushed it through. Maybe they get away with it but still it will have been a case of excessive risk using human subjects.

  • Ian

    @2, You miss the point of 1’s argument when you say “I guess you would refuse to accept blood from others if you needed surgery?”. At least the blood donor gave their consent. Embryonic stem cell ‘donors’ do not have any say despite human life beginning at conception – that’s a scientific fact.

    Furthermore there is nothing that says “The embryos that are used are discarded from fertility clinics” is morally acceptable. Again these embryos are human beings.

    You also fail the recognise the difference between an embryo and an egg when you say “Since the human female naturally discards her own embryo once a month your weak and powerless part of your comment is not valid.” Menstruation involves the expulsion of an egg, not an embryo, which I believe renders your argument weak and powerless.

  • Jack

    As good as the results from this may be allowing this will give young teens and other pregnant women more of a reason to have an abortion.. They can now justify it saying well I’m doing this to help other people. I don’t think we should encourage that.

  • Joe

    Jack- The “embryonic” stem cells in research come from a less than 7 day post fertilized egg, a clump of cells known as a blastocyst, used in invitro fertilization. This has nothing to do with young teens and other pregnant women having abortions.

    Ian- Are you against the existence and operation of fertility clinics? If all of the eggs harvested from a woman are not used by that couple, they are generally disposed of and are very rarely used by others for invetro fertilization.

    David- Aren’t the rodent models used in Keirsted’s previous experiments genetically closer to humans than any primate? If efficacy has been established in those models, why would you test lesser related mammals to attempt to prove safety in humans? Just do a human clinical trial already. The paralysis community has been working towards these clinical trials for better than 6 years.

    Jonathan- I agree with what you are trying to say. I would suggest double checking your terminology before engaging in a debate, and avoiding personal attacks. It weakens your position.

    Meagan- I do believe the donors of the fertilized eggs had to give consent for them to be used in research way back when these stem cell lines were established.

    For more on this topic check out Unite 2 Fight Paralysis, Working 2 Walk and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.


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