Stem cell research embarks on first human test

by Kelly MacNeil on October 14, 2010

Geron Corporations, a biotech company in California, announced it has begun testing an embryonic stem-cell treatment for a patient with a severely injured spinal cord.

The research is the first of its kind on a human subject and is in its preliminary stages. At the moment the trial is meant to test the safety of treatment more than to cure the injured patient.

Thomas Okarma, Geron’s president, described the trial as “a milestone for the field of human embryonic stem-cell based therapies,” according to The Telegraph.

Around nine individuals will be tried for the study, and each will be monitored for 30 days before doctors begin treatment on another patient.

To be eligible, a patient must have been injured within two weeks from beginning the treatment as researchers believe that stem cells have the best chance of repairing damaged nerves if the cells are injected as soon as possible, according to The Independent.

Geron Corp. has the first FDA license to treat spinal cord injuries with embryonic stem cells.

Such research is rare due to its cost and financial and medical risks, reports The Independent.

The research is highly controversial and often becomes a debate of ethics. Some oppose the research, such as the Catholic Church, saying it equates to abortion as the technology involves destroying embryos.

However, according to Jay Bookman, a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Geron’s research uses less morally conflicting methods. Bookman writes that, “Almost all stem-cell lines used in research, including those injected in the Shepherd patient, are derived from donated embryos left over from in-vitro fertility treatment.”

Others believe the research is the best hope for medical breakthroughs attempting to find a cure for paralysis in people with spinal cord injury, according to

President Barack Obama reversed a Bush ban on stem-cell research last year.

Approximately 1,275,000 people in the U.S. are paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury, according to The Spinal Code Injury Zone. Penn State’s College of Medicine reports that men between the ages of 19 and 26 are more likely to have such injuries due to an accident or act of violence.

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