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A First Step

A treatment made from embryonic stem cells is being used to treat a patient with a spinal cord injury, reports Discover. The phase I trial, which is being conducted by Geron, is testing the safety of the treatment and will enroll 10 people. The treatment is based on the work of the University of California, Irvine's Hans Keirstead whose team has found a way to turn hESCs into the oligodendrocytes that insulate nerve cells, notes the Los Angeles Times. In many cases of spinal cord injury, the damage is done to the myelin sheath and re-growing it could allow nerve signals to pass up and down the spine again — in animal trials, rats with spinal cord damage regained partial walking and running abilities. The trial was set to begin in 2009 when the US Food and Drug Administration put it on hold due to concerns about the possibility of the development of teratomas, notes MIT's Technology Review. After further animal safety studies, the FDA gave Geron the go-ahead in July. "I've got a couple of years of waking up and looking at the news every day, hoping and praying we're doing good for people and not bad," Keirstead tells the LA Times. Keirstead's technology was licensed to Geron.