Second U.S. company gets embryonic stem cell go-ahead

November 22, 2010


(Photo: A fluorescent microscope image shows human embryonic stem cells at Stanford University  March 9, 2009/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the second human trial of human embryonic stem cells — this one testing cells in people with a progressive form of blindness, the company said on Monday. Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology (ACTC.OB) said it would start testing its stem cell-based treatment on 12 patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy.

It is the second trial of human embryonic stem cells to be approved by the FDA this year. Last month Geron Corp (GERN.O) enrolled the first patient in its study using the cells in people whose spinal cords have been crushed.

Proponents of using embryonic stem cells say the field could transform medicine, providing treatments for brain diseases like Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes or severe injuries. But opponents object because to get the cells, someone has to take apart a human embryo.

Advanced Cell Technology’s cells come from a single cell taken from an embryo in a process the company says could in theory leave the embryo whole with the potential to be implanted and grow into a living baby. Researchers have discovered how to make embryonic-like cells from ordinary cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells. Researchers can also transform one cell type directly into another cell type. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research say research can focus on this field, but most experts in the field agree all approaches must be pursued.

Read the full story by our Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox here. There is also a factbox on the current stage of embryonic stem cell research in the U.S.

What do you think about this? If this company succeeds in restoring sight to people who are going blind, what will those who oppose this research on moral grounds say?

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