Sunday, August 1, 2010

First Human Stem Cell Therapy Trial

The first clinical trial of a therapy based on human stem cells has received final approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will get underway shortly, according to a press release from Geron Corporation, the company sponsoring the research. During the first phase of the trial, researchers will inject precursor cells to neural support cells called oligodendrocytes into the spinal cords of patients who have suffered recent spinal cord injuries and who have almost no chance of recovery of function otherwise. The hope is that the precursor cells will differentiate into mature oligodendrocytes (the cells that produce myelin) and that the myelin will form new sheaths around damaged nerves.

The trial was planned several years ago but held up by the FDA over concerns that the therapy could increase the risk of tumors forming in the spinal cord if the injected cells were not free of embryonic stem cells. The first phase of the trial is designed to test the safety of the procedure. It will be years before the technique becomes widely available for the repair of spinal cord injuries, even if it does eventually prove to be both safe and effective.

Stem cell researchers will be holding their breath. A failure in this first approved trial could set back the whole field of stem cell therapy research for years.

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