Human stem cell research approved

A northern California /*biotech*/ company is getting ready to start the first government-sanctioned human clinical trial on embryonic stem cells. The goal is to help people with spinal cord injuries.

Paralysis from a college football injury left Roman Reid dependent on a wheelchair. He is now hopeful that he'll be able to walk again some day.

"My dad gave me the call and we were just so excited," said Reid. "We were jumping up and down for joy," said Reid.

The source of his hope is a Menlo Park biotech firm called /*Geron*/. The company has received the government's blessing to test a drug derived from human /*embryonic stem cells*/. In earlier trials on rats with paralyzed back legs, the cells transformed into new nerve tissue. Months later, the rats were able to walk again.

"We are actually putting in living human cells that repair the damage in the spinal cord caused by the injury," said Thomas Okarma, CEO, Geron Corp.

Researchers will inject the cells into 10 people with recent spinal cord injuries. No one expects them to get up and walk immediately, but they're looking for potential side effects and modest gains such as regaining feeling and bladder control.

"The focus of this trial is safety. And if Geron can show that it is safe to transplant cells derived from embryonic stem cells into patients, that will be an important precedent that will enhance the ability to do future trials," said Dr. Sean Morrison, Stem Cell Biologist, /*University of Michigan*/.

Future trials will include major chronic diseases that plague mankind, such as heart disease, liver failure, arthritis and cancer. As great as it may sound, some remain morally opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells.

"The current line of embryonic stem cells are - for the most part - derived from living human embryos that were destroyed," said Dr. David Prentice, /*Family Research Council*/. "There is some concern that you're cannibalizing human life."

Roman Reid sees it differently. He's been waiting for this research for 15 years.

"I've already promised that I'm going to walk with my wife on the beach," said Reid. "That was my promise to her. And I will make that happen."

Geron's CEO said the permission they received from the /*Federal Drug Administration*/ has nothing to do with President /*Barack Obama*/ taking office. He says the stem cells in this project were eligible for federal funding under former president /*George W. Bush*/. However, no federal money is being used to develop the treatment or to pay for the study.



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