The first treatment derived from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) designed to help repair damaged spinal tissue could soon undergo clinical trials, New Scientist magazine said on Thursday.
Geron, a U.S. company stationed in Menlo Park, California will soon be seeking permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin the testing, a report in the June 17 issue of the magazine, which is already available, said.
"I'm confident that we will be in the clinic next year with the first human ESC-derived product," the report quoted Geron Chief Executive Tom Okarma as saying.
The company's plan is to treat people who have acute spinal injuries with special cells called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells grown from human ESCs. Experiments carried out by Geron in rats with damaged motor nerves suggested that oligodendrocyte progenitor cells injected into the spine can redress this and help to restore movement.
Oligodendrocyte cells support neurons in the brain and spine by sheathing them in myelin, a fat that helps neurons to transmit signals. Spinal "crush" injuries often cause a loss of myelin, and so destroy the capacity of nerves to transmit signals.
One of the main concerns with ESC treatments has been the possibility that the recipient's immune system will see the transplanted cells as foreign and attack them.
The company claims that this might not be a problem, at least for spinal repair treatment. It said it has evidence from cell-culture experiments that the treatment will not cause harmful immune reactions.
"The oligodendrocyte progenitor cells don't elicit major immune responses, at least in vitro," Okarma said.
The finding will not make other stem cell treatments more likely, though, as immune responses from brain and spinal cord tissue are often mild or non-existent. Compared with other tissues, these organs have a relatively inactive immune system.
Treatments with cells derived from human ESCs have been keenly awaited since 1998 when the cells were first cultured in the lab, providing a potentially inexhaustible supply, as the ESCs have great clinical potentials.
The report said ESCs could grow into all types of body tissues, and so could in theory be used to generate new tissue or even entire new organs.