First patient enrolls in a clinical trial funded by CIRM

Today is a landmark day for CIRM: We announced that the first patient had been enrolled in a clinical trial based on stem cell agency funding. You can read our press release here.

The patient was part of Menlo Park-based Geron’s phase I trial for spinal cord injury, which was awarded $25 million from CIRM in May. Stanford neurosurgeon Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, implanted the cells Sept. 17 at Rehabilitation Trauma Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Stanford had this to say about the trial:

Researchers at Geron collaborated with Hans Keirstead, PhD, and his laboratory team at UC-Irvine to develop a way to coax human embryonic stem cells to become a mixture of cells that include oligodendrocyte precursors. Oligodendrocytes are cells in the brain and the central nervous system that wrap nerve cells with an insulating material called myelin. This myelin sheath is necessary for the transmission of the electric signals along the spinal cord that trigger muscles to move, and relay our sense of touch and temperature. Damage to this sheath caused by trauma is a common cause of paralysis.

To be eligible for the trial, patients must have recent (within 14 days of injury) non-penetrating damage to a specific region of their thoracic spine — an area roughly from the top of the shoulder blades to the bottom of the rib cage. The damage must cause complete paraplegia, meaning that they have normal sensation or movement to the level of the hands, but not from the trunk to the toes.

During the procedure, Steinberg applied about 2 million of the special cells, called GRNOPC1, directly into the injured area of the patient’s spinal cord.

“We are quite pleased that the surgery was completed successfully and the patient is doing well,” said Steinberg.

When the CIRM governing board voted to fund the Geron trial, spinal cord injury advocate Roman Reed wrote a guest blog entry in which he said:

In a truly historic partnership for stem cell research and cure, state funding from what has been called “Roman’s Law” gave Hans Keirstead the seed money to achieve empirical evidence and proof of principle. Hans then sold his pioneering technique to Geron, and advanced biotechnology farther by founding California Stem Cell with the proceeds.

With admirable courage and determination, Geron pushed this science all the way to FDA approval to become the world’s first embryonic stem cell derived human clinical trial.

Now our beloved state agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will provide funding to bring about a full and complete Human Clinical Trial!!

The Keirstead/Geron/CIRM Trials advances the entire field of stem cell research.

Today’s announcement marks a milestone that is a critical step toward making safe and effective stem cell-based therapies available to patients.


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