Company Ready for Embryonic Stem Cell Research on People, Scientists Worried

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 16, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Company Ready for Embryonic Stem Cell Research on People, Scientists Worried Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 16, 2005

San Jose, CA ( — Embryonic stem cell research has yet to cure a single diseases or treat a single patient. In the past, patients treated with the controversial cells have gone into convulsions as their bodies rejected the foreign cells. But scientists now say they’re ready to try again.

Researchers at Geron, a California-based embryonic stem cell research company, are ready to take the next step with a treatment that they say has been helping paralyzed rats and mice walk again.

Geron hopes to get federal permission to inject the cells, which are only obtained by destroying unborn children in their earliest days, into patients with damaged spinal cords.

Geron plans to have the trials begin next year, according to a Knight Ridder story, as long as the Food and Drug Administration gives its okay.

"We don’t have our hopes sky-high," said Don Reed of Fremont, California. He told Knight Ridder that his son Roman Reed was left a quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a college football game 11 years ago. He hopes the drug will help but doesn’t want the FDA or Geron to rush tests until all of the safety issues have been resolved.

Some stem cell researchers told Knight Ridder Geron is moving too fast and they want the company to do more tests on animals before seeking human patients. They fear the cells will cause the same tumors that similar embryonic stem cell trails have resulted.

"Frankly, I cannot conceive of a human trial with the use of human embryonic stem cells following immediately from experiments in rodents only," said Jerry Silver, a neuroscience professor and stem-cell researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "Many treatments that work in rodents to alleviate disease fail miserably in humans."

Evan Snyder, director of the stem cell and regeneration program at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, agreed that Geron should do more animal testing first to make sure the tests would be on the same injuries humans have.

"I’m not convinced they have done that yet," Snyder said.

On the other hand, treatments from the use of noncontroversial adult stem cells have already helped patients battling dozens of diseases and conditions.

The FDA did not say whether it would approve the trials.