The treatment is not expected to restore full function to patients, but the researchers hope to see modest gains. "Any return of bladder or bowel function, a return of sensation, or a return of lower extremity locomotion would be a very exciting finding," Okarma said.
In experiments with rats, researchers found these cells were safe and did restore some function. "These cells insulate as well as stimulate nerve fibers, leading to restoration of function in animal models of spinal cord injury," Okarma said.
The cost of this therapy isn't known yet, but Okarma said it would be "affordable."
Embryonic stem cells are the most basic human cells. These cells are believed to be capable of growing into any type of cell.
The controversy surrounding the use of these cells has become a political issue, with some objecting that the use of these cells destroys potential life because they must be extracted from human embryos. This belief resulted in the Bush administration banning federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
While the Obama administration has indicated that it will lift the ban, the stem cells used in this trial were obtained from one of the Bush administration's approved stem cell lines. However, no federal funds were used in the development of this treatment.
A decade has passed since the first embryonic stem cells were isolated at the University of Wisconsin, in groundbreaking research that was funded by Geron Corp.
Geron is also working on using embryonic stem cells to treat failing hearts and to create insulin-producing islets for type 1 diabetics, Okarma said.
"Embryonic stem cells are really nature's own way of making more of ourselves," Okarma said. "We are simply harnessing the biology of normal human development in our attempts to achieve permanent cures to chronic diseas
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