Pfizer stem cell study highlights sea change for a controversial field

While Advanced Cell Technology and Geron overcame years of adversity to pioneer the world's first clinical trials of embryonic stem cell treatments, the pharma giant Pfizer ($PFE) has been working with British scientists to piece together their own study for a new ESC treatment for age-related macular degeneration. And a green light from regulators in the UK will help set the stage for a tidal change in the controversial ESC field as years of lab work and debate finally give way to a new phase of cutting-edge clinical studies.

The trials may move the stem cell field into a new era, but no one expects clinical data to blunt the enduring controversy that surrounds ESCs, which can only be developed from embryos. That link has enraged many religious and social conservatives. Any approved treatment that may lie a few years ahead is likely to retain the potential to provoke some people.

"It obviously is a difficult subject for some people and some people will definitely choose not to have this therapy even if it's available because they feel it's inappropriate for them. It's a personal choice," Paul Whiting, executive director of the Pfizer unit in charge of the prospective study, tells The Wall Street Journal.

Ellen Feigal, vice president of research and development at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, tells the Journal that the Pfizer study offers "tangible evidence" of the progress being made in the stem cell industry. Pfizer is working with researchers at University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology.

- here's the story from The WSJ

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