US greenlight to world’s first stem cell treatment on humans

Monday, August 2, 2010

LONDON - The world’s first experiments using embryonic stem cells to treat humans have been given the go-ahead in the US.

California-based biotech firm Geron will begin clinical trials on patients paralysed by spinal cord injuries.

Scientists hope that injecting cells from discarded human embryos into the spines of volunteers will trigger regrowth of damaged nerve cells and eventually allow the patients to recover feeling and movement, says a Daily Mail report from the US.

The study was cleared by President Barack Obama a year ago, but was put on hold because some animals on which the company was testing the treatment developed cysts. Now Geron claims it has overcome the problem.

Richard Fessler, a neurological surgeon at the Northwestern University who will lead the research, said if the treatment works on humans it would be ‘revolutionary’.

“The therapy would provide a viable treatment option for thousands of patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year,” he said.

Geron has spent 15 years and more than 100 million pounds developing the treatment and hopes to begin the study within the next few months.

Researchers hope the use of highly versatile embryonic stem cells - which can turn into any cell in the body - will revolutionise medicine, from creating organs for transplants to helping to test drugs.

The therapy also has the potential to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Until now, the ethical barrier of using discarded three- to five-day-old embryos has prevented any tests on humans.

The Bush administration, fearing a backlash from its many evangelical Christian supporters, kept embryonic stem cell research tightly shackled, but last year President Obama repealed the block.

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