First patient treated in embryonic stem cell trial

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First patient treated in embryonic stem cell trial

12th October 2010

Doctors in the USA have started the first official human trial using embryonic stem cells in a development being described as the dawn of a new age in medicine.

The US Food and Drug Administration has given a licence to Geron - a biotech company based in Silicon Valley - to use the controversial cells in tests designed to assess how safe the therapy proves to people with spinal injuries.

Mark Thomson, head of the serious injuries department at Fentons Solicitors LLP said: "This is the latest step on a very long journey towards finding an effective treatment for spinal cord injury victims. Although it is potentially very exciting news, there are undoubtedly many years of rigorous testing ahead before it can be known whether cell-based therapy is safe and effective. In the meantime our focus must and will remain on rehabilitation and care."

Geron, who have spent $170m on developing a stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries, have since announced the enrolment of the first patient in a pilot study at the Shepherd Centre, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

Researchers are hoping embryonic stem cells - which have the ability to become almost any type of human cell tissue in the body including nerve cells - can be injected into the spinal cords of those with serious recent spinal injuries. The hope is the injected cells will then travel to the site of the injury and release compounds that will help the damaged nerves in the spinal cord to regenerate.

Previous animal trials have shown that injecting the cells into paralysed rats with acute spinal cord injuries can restore some degree of movement. It is not yet known however whether the process will offer any benefit to people with spinal cord injuries.

To be eligible for the trials, participating patients must have sustained spinal injuries no more than 14 days before receiving the experimental stem cell treatment.

"Although the launch of this trial is a significant milestone," said Mark, a partner with the firm, "it is important to emphasise that the objective of trials at this stage is to first ascertain that cell-based therapy is safe to use and no harm is done to patients. Once this has been confirmed, the focus can then move towards development and assessment of the new treatment."

When researchers first began working with human embryonic stem cells in 1999, many predicted it would be a number of decades before a cell-based therapy would be approved for human clinical trials. Although extensive research and development has brought this date forward, it will still take time to get results.

In the UK, the first patient trial using embryonic stem cells is expected to start in the coming year, subject to approval from regulators.

"At Fentons our spinal injuries department do everything they can to ensure clients with spinal cord injuries have access to the best possible care and treatment," said Mark. "We endeavour to help clients rebuild their lives, considering all aspects of therapy and rehabilitation. As this potentially groundbreaking research continues, we will naturally monitor progress in the hope that the technological advances may one day provide new possible treatments for those living with spinal injuries."

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons have specialist spinal injury claim solicitors experienced in handling claims for most forms of spinal injury.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - BBC