Groundbreaking news! For the first time ever in the United States, a patient has been treated with embryonic stem cells. It’s part of the first study authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to test this controversial therapy. (Experimental stem cell treatments have already taken place in China.)
Millions of embryonic stem cells were injected into a patient who was partially paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, according to an announcement this morning by the Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California, which is sponsoring this study. Here’s a link to the announcement. The patient was treated at the Shepherd Center, a hospital in Atlanta that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries.
Two Million Stem Cells Injected
In the treatment, scientists injected about 2 million “oligodendrocyte progenitor cells,” created from embryonic stem cells, in the hopes that the cells will form a restorative coating around the damaged spinal cord.
Room For Hope
Supporters of these privately funded, government-approved tests are confident that research has been thorough. Indeed the Food and Drug Administration has demanded extensive experiments to provide evidence that the cells are safe enough to test in people and that they hold great promise.
But Some Are Concerned
But many scientists are worried. “There’s a lot of angst around these trials,” said Evan Y. Snyder, director of the stem cell program at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in San Diego. “There’s going to be this perception that if the cells do not perform well, the entire field will be illegitimate.” And some researchers cite the case of Jess Gelsinger, whose 1999 death from a gene therapy experiment set the field back years.
Still, this study marks a milestone in this research, considered potentially one of the most promising developments in medical research in decades.
As Ann Pietrangelo reported here less than two weeks ago, a federal appeals court recently ruled that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research could continue for the time being. This decision was in response to an earlier cutoff of federal funding for this research, but it is a temporary action, and the final outcome is still in doubt.
This study is controversial, but it is also bringing hope to many.