Medical Milestone: Genetics Company Begins First Embryonic Stem-Cell Treatment on Patient

Milestone study will look at how well patient can tolerate treatment

ByABC News
October 11, 2010, 5:01 PM

Oct. 11, 2010— -- For years, scientists have held out the promise that embryonic stem cells could repair damaged spinal cords and cure other serious ailments.

Scientists today got one step closer to making that promise a reality as they began an embryonic stem-cell treatment on a patient with spinal cord injuries. It is the first time a medical therapy has been used on a human in a government approved study.

"This is the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics. We are leaving behind the days of using pills to treat symptoms, and entering a new era where we're using living human cells to permanently restore organ function damaged by a disease or an injury," said Tom O'Karma, president and CEO of Geron Corporation, the company conducting the trial.

It's a cautious start. Scientists from Geron injected the first human subject Friday at the Sheperd Center, a 132-bed spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital and clinical research center in Atlanta -- one of seven potential sites in the country that can enroll patients in the new clinical trial for the therapy. The company says it will add eight to 10 additional patients to the other national sites in the next year.

The company won Food and Drug Administration approval after showing promising results in lab rats. Rodents with little use of their back legs and tails were able to walk again within weeks; the embryonic stem cells helped repair their damaged nervous system.

For now the company is playing down expectations in the human trial.

"We can only admit one patient a month for the first few patients, so it will take about six months to a year before we have enough rigorous data to be able to say something about safety and any possible efficacy that we detect," O'Karma said.