At last, some good news for embryonic stem cells

In the first published results from a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), 2 legally blind patients with macular degeneration who had been given an injection in one eye have suffered no harmful side effects and appear to have slightly better vision. The trial was sponsored by a Massachusetts biotech, Advanced Cell Technology.

This is a rare piece of good news for the stagnating hESC field and ACT’s share price rose 23%. Two months ago another company, Geron, aborted the only other human trial with hESCs – a potential cure for spinal cord trauma – and announced that it was abandoning the field entirely. ACT is now the only company working with hESCs.

The results were widely reported, based on a study published in The Lancet. However, the author of the paper, Steven D. Schwartz, a retina specialist at UCLA, conceded that it was “extremely unusual” to publish a paper with data based on only 2 patients --without a control group. He said that it was justified by public’s huge interest in stem cells.

Since they were discovered 13 years ago, hESCs have shown promise for treating diseases, but they have also been shadowed by safety issues and ethical concerns, as the process destroys human embryos. ~ New York Times, Jan 23

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