Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Embryonic Stem Cell Treatment Tried on Spinal Cord Injury

A California bio-tech company has begun testing an embryonic stem-cell drug treatment on a patient with spinal cord injuries, marking the first time a drug made with embryonic stem cells has been used on a human.

The patient was enrolled at Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta.

In order to participate, the patient had to have been injured within the last two weeks. The company, Geron, hopes to enroll another eight to 10 patients in the study.

The stem-cell drug, known as GRNOPC, contains cells that turn into oligodendrocytes, a type of cell that produces myelin, a coating that allows impulses to move along nerves.

When those cells are lost because of injury, paralysis can follow. If GRNOPC1 works, the progenitor cells will produce new oligodendrocytes in the injured area of the patient's spine, potentially allowing for new movement.

Because this is an early stage study, researchers are primarily concerned with the safety of the treatment.

"When we started working with human embryonic stem cells in 1999, many predicted that it would be a number of decades before a cell therapy would be approved for human clinical trials," Dr. Thomas B. Okarma, president and chief executive officer of Geron said in a statement.

Embryonic stem cells have been at the center of funding controversies because the research involves destroying human embryos, which some have argued is akin to abortion.

But, many researchers consider embryonic stem cells the most versatile types of stem cells, as they can morph into any type of cell.

While a milestone in the technology, the drug is still a long way from being proven and reaching the market. It still faces many years of testing for effectiveness if all goes well in the early stage study.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Stem Cell Trial Offers Hope for Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries

A provocative video of two rodents with spinal cord injuries was shown to an audience gathered Tuesday at the Detroit Marriot for the second day of the World Stem Cell Summit.One of the rodents dragged its left hind leg, suffered from incontinence and couldn’t stand. The other rodent had an injection of embryonic stem cells and appeared to have more mobility in its back legs.

The video was aimed at showing hope for the world’s first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells in humans. California-based Geron Corp. company has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to inject the stem cells into the spines of patients with spinal cord injuries, initially to determine safety.

“While the animal is not normal, there is some return of the muscles,” said Thomas Okarma, Geron president and chief executive officer.

The research offers hope for those who have sustained a spinal cord injury, which leads to paralysis. Depending on the location of the injury, people with spinal cord injuries lose the use of their legs, and sometimes the loss of mobility in their arms, hands and even their ability to breathe.

Sabrina Cohen of Miami Beach lost the use of her legs and hands following a car accident in 1992.

“The first stage of the trial is to prove safety; that’s huge,” said Cohen, 32, said before the presentation. “And I hope it will be an effective treatment for injured individuals.”

By: Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News
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