When Stanford neurosurgeon Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, injected human stem cells this fall into the damaged spinal cord tissue of specially-selected patients, it was considered a major step forward in moving research discoveries toward clinical application. In November, however, the Menlo Park-based Geron Corp. announced it was ending the trial and its research into stem cells to concentrate on cancer drugs. Steinberg was disappointed, as many were. But, as he explained in a new Q&A on the Stanford Hospital & Clinics website:
We should remember that five of the anticipated eight total patients were successfully transplanted with no adverse effects noted to date. Since this was designed as a safety study, the outcomes are very encouraging. These patients will be followed for 15 years to assess continued safety as well as any signs of neurologic improvement. I don’t believe the early termination of enrollment in this study will significantly set back the stem cell therapy field.
And when asked about his personal motivation to pursue and study embryonic stem cell treatment, he told me:
I was inspired by what I see every day: Patients devastated by neurological disorders and psychiatric disease with no hope or little hope for recovery of function. And it’s been like that for hundreds of years for many neurological diseases or injuries, including stroke, degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s. These patients are disabled and we have no treatment once the injury has occurred to restore or regenerate function. Stem cell therapy offers great hope to change that status for a large number of patients.