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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

First Patient Treated With Embryonic Stem Cells

Paralyzed Atlanta Patient Gets Stem Cells Injected Into Spine
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Embryonic Stem Cells Mature Before Injection continued...

Key questions are whether the stem cells will spur growth of tumors called teratomas, whether the cells will be rejected by the immune system, and whether there will be unintended consequences such as nerve pain.

In preclinical studies, animals with severe spinal injuries regained the ability to walk after treatment with OPC1 cells. The animals did not develop teratomas, reject the cells, or suffer nerve pain.

In addition to showing clinical improvement, treated animals' damaged nerves became coated with new myelin and there was new nerve growth in the vicinity of the injected cells.

Whether humans will respond as well as animals remains an open question. Study patients will be followed closely, and must agree to check-up visits for 15 years.

So far, the only active clinical trial centers are at Northwestern University in Chicago and the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta.

Fessler notes that this study is not the first time he's explored using embryonic tissues to repair spinal injuries. In the late 1990s, when he was at the University of Florida, Fessler and colleagues explored the use of fetal spinal tissue to treat paralysis.

Overall, this treatment showed little effect. But individual patients had substantial improvement -- and Fessler says that crucial knowledge gained in that study planted the seeds of the stem-cell trial that began today.

In addition to the GRNOPC1 cells for nervous system diseases, Geron is also making six other cell types from embryonic stem cells:

  • Heart muscle cells for treatment of heart failure and heart attack
  • Pancreatic islet cells for the treatment of diabetes
  • Cartilage cells for the treatment of osteoarthritis
  • Liver cells for drug testing
  • Antigen-presenting cells for immunotherapy of cancer and infectious diseases
  • Bone cells for the treatment of osteoporosis and bone fracture

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