MENLO PARK (KCBS) – A Menlo Park-based biotech company has launched the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells in humans.

The trial was not designed to cure any patients, though some claim it makes the dawn of a new age of medicine, nonetheless.

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

A paralyzed patient in an Atlanta hospital was injected with millions of embryonic stem cells at the site of his spinal cord injury. The hope was that the cells would create a restorative coating around the damaged area.

In lab tests, animals who were partially paralyzed eventually walked, following the same therapy.

Geron Corp., headquartered in Menlo Park, spent $170 million developing this treatment for spinal cord injuries. Federal funding for such research was in limbo, after a judge in August ruled that federal law prohibited taxpayer money from being used for research that involved the destruction of human embryos.

Despite the massive price tag, the trial was described as more of a safety test than anything else.

“The first thing the FDA asks you to do is test safety. So that is in fact the primary objective of this study,” explained Pat Olson, director of the science program at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency that funds stem cell research. “This is a phase one study to test safety.”

Nonetheless, hopes were high.

“You know, it’s hard to ask for a lot out of a phase one trial,” cautioned Olson. “I think that the company is being very careful to learn as much as they can, not just with regard to safety but with respect to function.”

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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