By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Adult stem cells have advanced so much further than this ESC experiment — restoring feeling to people with long time spinal cord injuries — with almost no media coverage. (Apparently, the advance was achieved with the wrong kind of stem cells.) But it is worth noting that a human being has been injected with what might be described broadly as adult stem cells made from embryonic stem cells. From the story:
U.S. doctors have begun treating the first patient to receive human embryonic stem cells, but details of the landmark clinical trial are being kept confidential, Geron Corp (GERN.O) said on Monday. Geron has the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration license to use the controversial cells to treat people, in this case patients with new spinal cord injuries. It is the first publicly known use of human embryonic stem cells in people.
“The patient was enrolled at Shepherd Center, a 132-bed spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital and clinical research center in Atlanta, Georgia,” Geron said in a statement. “Shepherd Center is one of seven potential sites in the United States that may enroll patients in the clinical trial.” Northwestern University in Chicago is also ready to enroll patients. Geron’s stem cells come from human embryos left over from fertility treatments. They have been manipulated so that they have become precursors to certain types of nerve cells. The hope is that they will travel to the site of a recent spinal cord injury and release compounds that will help the damaged nerves in the cord regenerate. The Phase I trial will not be aiming to cure patients but to establish that the cells are safe to use. Under the guidelines of the trial, the patients must have very recent injuries.
It will be hard to know whether the stem cells helped the patient as it can be hard to predict what will happen with new spinal cord injuries. But this is a safety test, not one that measures efficacy, that is, to see whether the injections can lead to tumors or other complications.
That could take some time, in fact, perhaps years. Let us all hope that the patient is not harmed by this experiment. And in the meantime, that adult stem cell therapies make embryonic experiments of this type wholly superfluous.