Researchers at Geron Corporationof Menlo Park, California, want to begin the first testing embryonic stem cell therapy in humans with damaged spinal cords. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives its OK and the injections help, it could bring hope to many of the more than 250,000 people in this country with spinal disabilities.
Geron has been working with researchers at the University of California-Irvine, who reported lastyear that paralyzed rats could walk nine weeks after being injected with oligodendrocyte progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.
The move is controversial. Some researchers say Geron is moving too fast, and that more animal testing should be done first. Some point out that treatments that work with lab animals sometimes don’t work on humans. Some worry that the stem cells could turn cancerous. Others object to all embryonic stem cell research on moral or theological grounds.
Spinal cord injuries frequently damage one part of nerve cells called axons, the long wire-like extensions of the nerve cells. That damage disrupts the axon’s ability to transmit information, resulting in paralysis. For its test, Geron proposes to turn human embryonic stem cells into the precursors for specialized nerve cells, called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Surgeons then would inject the cells into the spinal injury with the help of a special stabilizing frame the company has developed. If everything goes as planned, the progenitor cells would help form new axons and also turn into oligodendrocytes, which help form an insulating sheath for the axons, called myelin.
The study would involve just a few dozen patients with irreversible spinal cord injuries, with the initial focus on just determining if the stem cell injections are safe.
If you have ever spent time with quadriplegics, and know what they endure, all the reservations about research seem trivial. If it were me or a member of my family sitting in the sip-and-puff power wheelchair, I would say, “bring on the stem cells, NOW!”

The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).