First Embryonic Stem Cell Trial Starts

ATLANTA, Oct. 11 (UPI) — A patient partially paralyzed by a spinal cord injury has been injected with embryonic stem cells in a first test of the controversial therapy, officials said.

Shepherd Center, a 132-bed hospital in Atlanta that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries, and Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which is sponsoring the research, said the procedure was conducted Friday, The Washington Post reported.

Doctors at the center, one of seven taking part in a study, will test to see whether the treatment restores sensation or allows the patient to regain movement, the newspaper said.

After a series of delays, the Food and Drug Administration gave permission in July for the trial, the first approved by a government body.

The FDA had required extensive laboratory and animal experiments to prove the cells hold promise and are safe enough to test in people.

Some critics argue it is too soon for human trials.

“Without knowing more clinical detail, there’s little I can say,” said Steve Goldman, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Rochester in New York.

“In more general terms … I remain concerned about the long-term safety of unpurified grafts of embryonic stem cell derivatives. Time will tell,” he said.

The trial comes as the future of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is in doubt after a judge ruled in August the Obama administration’s funding violated a federal law prohibiting taxpayer money being spent for research involving the destruction of human embryos.

That decision has been appealed by the Justice Department.

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