Company Halts First Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Trial

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Nov 15, 2011   |   11:09AM   |   Washington, DC

This is gigantic news that should be on the front page but is instead relegated to the business section.  (I am telling you.  You want accurate stem cell news without all the hype?  Read the business news.)  Geron, the California company that was the first to get FDA approval for human trials with cells derived from embryonic stem cells has decided to shut down the trial and leave embryonic stem cells behind.  From the New York Times:

The company conducting the world’s first clinical trial of a therapy using human embryonic stem cells said on Monday that it was halting that trial and leaving the stem cell business entirely.

The company, Geron, said that its move did not reflect a lack of promise for the controversial field. Rather, it said, with money scarce, it had decided to focus on its experimental cancer therapies, which are further along in development.

“I deeply believe in the promise of stem cells,” John A. Scarlett, the chief executive of Geron, said in an interview. “I don’t think that promise is in any way, shape or form changed by what we’re doing.”

Still, the move is expected to be widely seen as a setback for the field, because of Geron’s central role.

This is good news showing what pro-lifers have said all along.  Let’s put money into ethical therapies that are farther along in development. But are the patients already enrolled in the study to see if embryonic-derived cells could help spinal cord injury showing results?  No, according to Dr. Scarlett, Geron’s new CEO:

So far four patients have been treated. Dr. Scarlett of Geron said that there were “no signs” that the treatment was helping the patients. But that was not expected in the initial trial, which was mainly looking at safety. And so far, he said, there had been no sign of safety problems.

No safety problems is good news for the patients in the trial.  But Geron’s retreat is sure to be a rallying cry to increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  If business is not investing their time and money into embryonic stem cells, then you have to question whether the federal government should be spending our money in this field.  I would prefer to see my tax dollars going to adult stem cell research is that is undoubtedly “further along in development.” Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).