Human Exceptionalism

We’ve Heard This Story Before

A piece in the Sunday Times, claims that Geron Corporation will be starting human trials using ES cells to treat spinal cord injury in 2008: “The Geron Corporation, based in America, is seeking approval for the first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells to repair human spinal cords, which would be conducted next year.” (Depending on the date the quote was given, it could refer to 2007.)

Perhaps. But Geron has been claiming it is on the verge of human testing to treat spinal cord injuries with ES cell-derived products for a few years now. For example, back in 2004, the Center for Genetics and Society reported that Geron planned to ask to conduct human trials in 2005. Similarly, on December 1 2004, Ronald Bailey of Reason reported, “According to Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, the company is aiming to file an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting permission to begin clinical trials using glial cells derived from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged spinal cords in 2005 or early 2006.”

Yet, an April 19, 2005 Wired story had Geron predicting a “mid 2006” date for trials to begin. Ditto, this article in the San Jose Mercury News. Then, there was this New Scientist article from June 2006, predicting trials in 2007. So, let’s put this in the “We’ll See” file.

Post Script: As I was researching this entry, I ran into this interesting quote from Dr. Arnold Keirstead, who is working with Geron on the ESC research, on 60 Minutes: “Asked what would be considered success in humans, Dr. Keirstead says, ‘I think we could call this a dazzling success if we saw the smallest improvement in the ability of a human to do anything that they could not do. If they could move a single finger, I would call that a raving success. Let’s hope it’s a lot more.'”

But when Dr. Carlos Lima had just such a “dazzling” success in human spinal cord injury patients (some feeling restored) using adult stem cells, he was virtually ignored by the media. Funny how a proposed treatment using ESCR received more attention than a real one that is actually showing hopeful promise.

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