History or hype? World's first ESC trial gets under way

An Atlanta patient with a crushed spine has become the first to ever be treated with an embryonic stem cell therapy--a development that was described as both clinically historic and just the latest small step in a painstakingly slow development odyssey that has stretched out for years.

"There is no doubt that this is the dawn of the stem cell age," Chris Mason, a regenerative medicine expert at University College, London, declared to ABC News. Geron is mounting the tiny trial after doggedly seeking a regulatory green light for years.

To be chosen as one of the eight patients who will be recruited for this Phase I safety test, a patient's spine needs to be crushed-but not severed--in the middle of the back, be free of infection and have a clean cancer history. And just to make sure that no one claims they were coerced, Reuters reports that each volunteer will be accompanied by an independent patient advocate and given a chance to consult with a member of the clergy.

News of the treatment spread around the world, heating up Geron's share price while drawing at least one splash of cold water from Matthew Herper, the Forbes biotech correspondent who recalls noting back in 2001 that stem cell therapies were at least a decade away. 

"While this is a political victory--it has taken more than a decade to get this study off the ground--it does not represent any real leap in knowledge or in Geron's odds of success," writes Herper, who's updating his stem cell forecast by tacking on another decade to the timeline for an approval.

- read the story from ABC News
- see the Reuters report
- and here's the Forbes piece