Can cell therapy help spinal-cord injury? A long-running study hopes the answer is yes.
By Katherine Bourzac
Why: Embryonic stem cells provide a potential source of replacement tissue for use in treating an array of degenerative diseases and injuries.
Key innovation: Has begun clinical trials for a spinal-cord therapy derived from these cells.
Last fall, Geron initiated the first clinical trial of a therapy based on embryonic stem cells to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company reprogrammed stem cells from embryos discarded from fertility clinics into progenitor nerve cells designed to restore function in patients with severe spinal cord injuries.
Embryonic stem cell therapies offer tremendous promise for treating an array of common degenerative diseases and injuries.
In addition to its nerve-cell-based therapy, the company is also developing therapies based on heart cells, liver cells, insulin-producing cells, and cartilage-forming cells derived from its embryonic stem cell lines. Although its focus is on developing therapies, the company is also marketing its heart and liver cells for use by the pharmaceutical industry in drug development, screening, and toxicity studies.
Challenges and Next Steps:
Other companies are pursuing induced pluripotent stem cells, which could become a less-controversial replacement for stem cells derived from human embryos, but it remains to be seen if iPS cells behave exactly as embryonic stem cells.