* First trial of human embryonic stem cells
* Geron's product avoids federal funding limits
* Geron shares up 6.4 pct in late afternoon
(Adds reaction of industry expert and British researcher,
updates stock price)
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, Oct 11 U.S. doctors have begun
treating the first patient to receive human embryonic stem
cells, but details of the patient enrolled in the landmark
clinical trial are being kept confidential, Geron Corp said on
Geron, whose shares were up 6.4 percent on the Nasdaq late
on Monday afternoon, has the first U.S. Food and Drug
Administration license to use the controversial cells to treat
people, in this case patients with new spinal cord injuries. It
is the first publicly known use of human embryonic stem cells
"The patient was enrolled at Shepherd Center, a 132-bed
spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital and
clinical research center in Atlanta, Georgia," Geron said in a
"Shepherd Center is one of seven potential sites in the
United States that may enroll patients in the clinical trial."
Northwestern University in Chicago is also ready to enroll
Geron's stem cells come from human embryos left over from
fertility treatments. They have been manipulated so that they
have become precursors to certain types of nerve cells.
The hope is that they will travel to the site of a recent
spinal cord injury and release compounds that will 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. Under the
guidelines of the trial, the patients must have very recent
Geron said the Shepherd Center would keep details of the
"When we started working with human embryonic stem cells in
1999, many predicted that it would be a number of decades
before a cell therapy would be approved for human clinical
trials," Geron President and CEO Dr. Thomas Okarma said in a
"It's great news -- my hat's off to them for being the
first," Dr. Bob Lanza of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell
Technology ACTC.OB, which has a human embryonic stem cell
trial close to FDA approval, said by email.
"It ushers in a new era for stem cell therapy. We hope to
follow them into the clinic very soon -- knock on wood -- we're
hoping to get the green light from the FDA in the coming
ACT's product is a human embryonic stem cell trained to
become a retinal cell. The company has asked the FDA for
permission to use it in patients with Stargardt's macular
dystrophy, a genetic eye disease that progresses to blindness.
"If it works, there will hopefully be far fewer critics of
research on human embryonic stem cells, especially in the USA,"
said Robin Lovell Badge of the National Institute of Medical
Research at Britain's Medical Research Council.
"If it does not, the critics will no doubt be rejoicing,
but they will be foolish to do so. Other trials will follow
soon, for a range of clinical problems -- and even if just one
works well, it will all be worthwhile."
Geron is not subject to limitations on federal funding for
human embryonic stem cell research, as it has done all its work
with its own funding.
The U.S. government is embroiled in a legal battle over the
cells. Just weeks after he took office in 2009, President
Barack Obama issued an executive order that eased limitations
on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.
Opponents of their use say it is wrong to use a human
embryo to make the cells, and two researchers have sued the
National Institutes of Health. A federal appeals court has
allowed continued federal funding of the work until the case is
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and