Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Geron, a California company developing therapies derived from embryonic stem cells, announced on Monday that the first patient has been treated in its landmark trial for spinal cord injury. The therapy, which involves injecting differentiated neural cells into the injury site, is the first such treatment to be tested in humans. Other experimental stem cell therapies involve adult stem cells or cells derived from fetuses.

Geron first garnered approval for the tests from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January of 2009. But that approval was put on hold several months later due to new safety concerns from animal tests. Because cells can behave unpredictably, regulators want to make sure the transplanted cells don’t develop into teratomas, a type of tumor associated with the injection of embryonic stem cells.The FDA gave permission to resume testing in July, after another round of animal safety tests. This early stage trial is designed to assess the safety of the therapy in humans and will involve a small number of patients with new injuries; the treatment must be delivered within 14 days of the injury.

The cell therapy is made by transforming embryonic stem cells into oligodendrocytes–a type of brain cell that wraps itself around neurons, forming a fatty insulation layer that allows electrical messages to be conducted throughout the nervous system. These cells are often damaged in spinal cord injury, while the underlying nerve cells remain intact. When the new cells are injected into the site of the injury in animals, they coat exposed nerves and restore communication to the nervous system.

In 2005, Hans Keirstead and collaborators at the University of California, Irvine, showed that paralyzed rats injected with the cells were able to walk again. Since then, Geron has been conducting numerous studies intended to show the safety of the cell-based therapy, as well as developing production methods that would make the cells as easy to use as more traditional treatments. Geron researchers have also developed a way to reliably freeze and thaw brain cells, so that they can be manufactured in a central location, and then shipped to the hospitals where they will be used.

The first patient in the study was enrolled at the Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of seven potential sites in the United States that may enroll patients in the clinical trial. According to Geron,

Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, IL is also open for patient enrollment. As additional trial sites come online and are ready to enroll patients, they will be listed on the Patient Information pages of Geron’s website and on the NIH clinical trials registry, ClinicalTrials.gov.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Biomedicine, embryonic stem cells, Geron, spinal cord injury

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »