US doctors have begun treating the first patient with embryonic stem cells as part of the first human study of the controversial treatment authorized by the government, the Geron Corporation said Monday.
The patient was enrolled at the Shepherd Center spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where Geron began clinical trials of their GRNOPC1 human embryonic stem cells in treating patients with devastating spinal cord injuries.
The trial comes just 11 years after Geron began working with human embryonic stem cells in 1999, when "many predicted that it would be a number of decades before a cell therapy would be approved for human clinical trials," said Thomas Okarma, Geron's president and CEO.
"Initiating the GRNOPC1 clinical trial is a milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell-based therapies," Okarma said.
Geron got clearance in January last year to conduct human trials of GRNOPC1 embryonic stem cells, which are highly versatile, primitive cells capable of developing into any tissue.
Preclinical studies have shown that GRNOPC1 significantly improved locomotor activity of animals with spinal cord injuries when injected seven days after the injury.
Participants in the study must be newly injured and receive GRNOPC1 between seven and 14 days of sustaining their injury.
David Apple, Shepherd Center's medical director, said the clinical trial was a key step forward in attempts to find a cure for paralysis in people with spinal cord injury.
The ultimate goal is to inject GRNOPC1 cells into the spines of paralyzed human volunteers in the hope that this will prompt damaged nerve cells to regrow, enabling the patients to eventually recover feeling and movement.