Second patient treated in Geron stem cell trial

Tue May 10, 2011 4:26pm EDT

* Doctors inject second patient with spinal cord injury

* Study testing safety of treatment

CHICAGO May 10 (Reuters) - U.S. doctors have begun treating a second patient injected with human embryonic stem cells in the spine as part of a landmark Geron Corp (GERN.O) clinical trial testing the cells in spinal cord injuries.

The patient, who is not being identified, will undergo a progressive course of rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago after receiving an injection of stem cells at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern officials said on Tuesday.

"We are very excited to announce the second enrollment in this milestone study, which is the first to evaluate the effects of cells derived from embryonic stem cells in subjects with severe spinal cord injuries," Dr. Richard Fessler, who is leading the study, said in a statement.

Geron's stem cells come from human embryos left over from fertility treatments. They have been manipulated to become precursors to certain types of nerve cells.

It is hoped they will travel to the site of a recent spinal cord injury and release compounds that help the damaged nerves in the cord regenerate.

The Phase I trial will not be aiming to cure patients but to establish that the cells are safe to use. But the team will also look to see if the stem cells improve patients' control or sensation in the trunk or legs.

Under the guidelines of the trial, the patients must have very recent injuries.

The first person to get an injection of the cells more than six months ago has not had any serious side effects. Fessler said it is still too early to say whether the patient has had any improvement in sensation and muscle control.

In animal studies, stem cells being used in the study have shown they can restore the protective myelin coating to damaged nerve cells that have lost their ability to conduct electrical impulses.

The stem cells also have shown nerve-growth stimulating properties leading to restoration of function in animals with acute spinal cord injury.

Geron's shares gained 11 cents, or 2.25 percent, to close at $5 on the NASDAQ stock exchange on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Paul Simao)

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