Exciting news: Researchers have commenced the first human clinical trial for embryonic stem cell therapy. On Friday, they injected human stem cells into a patient with a spinal injury, probing the possible use of stem cells to restore the ability to walk and to give greater control of bodily functions. Should the results of this limited-scale human trial prove safe, not leading to pain or tumor growth, scientists will be able to test the efficacy of human stem-cell treatment.
[Neurologist Hans] Keirstead’s team managed first to turn human embryonic stem cells into oligodendrocytes, the cells that insulate nerve fibers with coatings of fatty myelin. Growing the “tubing” that protects nerve cells could in many cases be enough to allow signals to travel up and down the spine again, Keirstead said. That’s because, in the vast majority of spinal cord injuries, the cord is not completely severed — rather, the myelin sheath that protects the nerve cells is damaged or destroyed.
The human trial is a so-called Phase I trial, meant to test the safety of the treatment for people. It will enroll up to 10 patients who have suffered spinal cord injuries between the third and 10th thoracic vertebrae, injecting the cells within 14 days of the injury. If the treatment is shown to be safe and well tolerated, researchers will move on to test the treatment’s effectiveness.
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