ACT Starts Dangerous Human Trials of Embryonic-Like Cells

Bioethics   |   David Prentice, Ph.D.   |   Jul 14, 2011   |   11:38AM   |   Washington, DC

The embryonic stem cell and human cloning company, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), has begun two experiments on human patients with the injection of embryonic stem cell derivatives into the eyes of two patients.

The two patients, the first each in two different trials related to eye diseases, both supposedly had cells injected into their eyes on Tuesday, July 12. These first two patients received only 50,000 cells in their injection. Supposedly a total of 12 patients in each of the two trials will be injected into the eyes, with increasing doses of cells used in subsequent injections.

The clinical experiments are to test the safety and tolerance of the injected embryonic stem cell derivatives for the eye diseases Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and age related macular degeneration. According to the database listings, the trials will last through July 2013, but few other details are available.

These human experiments using embryonic stem cells for blindness are based primarily on two published studies in rats, one in 2006 and one in 2009. Even a number of embryonic stem cell proponents have significant concerns about injecting embryonic stem cells into patients at this stage. Embryonic stem cells have profound negative baggage. Embryonic stem cells are derived by destruction of human life, specifically young human embryos.

Moreover, embryonic stem cells have a disturbing propensity to form tumors. Animal research has indicated that it takes only two growing embryonic stem cells to generate a tumor. And while injected cells have supposedly stopped growing, some animal experiments show that such embryonic stem cell derivatives can begin growing again to form cancerous lesions.

The fact that neither ACT nor Geron (the other group injected embryonic stem cells into patients) has proven that they can control tumor formation is one of the main concerns for safety. In addition, potential for immune rejection problems have raised additional worries for the safety of the patients in these experiments.

News reports note early indications are that the patients tolerated the surgical procedures well for injection of embryonic stem cell derivatives into their eyes. The surgeon involved, Dr. Steven Schwartz of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, said “We will be carefully monitoring our patients over the course of the trials.” It’s unknown how long that monitoring will occur in these patients. Geron, which has injected two spinal cord injury patients with embryonic stem cell derivatives in the last six months, has committed to follow its patients for 15 years, due to the significant risk of tumors from the embryonic stem cells.

Meanwhile, the chief science officer for ACT, Dr. Robert Lanza, continued his usual hype and misrepresentation of embryonic stem cells, stating “Today –13 years after the discovery of human embryonic stem cells – the great promise of these cells is finally being put to the test.”

Of course, Geron was actually first to begin the test, beginning its human experiments in October 2010, with a second patient injected in April 2011. And the human embryonic stem cell “discovery” did not occur only 13 years ago; 1998 is simply the year that the cells were first successfully grown long-term in the laboratory, after being discovered and known for decades. But then, Lanza and ACT have not been known for PR accuracy, having to “correct” and “clarify” a paper published in the journal Nature

While embryonic stem cells risk the health of patients with unethically-derived cells, ethical and successful adult stem cells continue to treat thousands of patients every year. Check out some of the stories.