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The media is at it again, pushing the stem cell line desired by a Big Biotech company. This story in the Chicago Tribune seems sparked by Geron’s publicity department rather than having been garnered through independent reporting. It’s about why the field has moved slowly and how Geron is uniquely poised to make big breakthroughs. Anybody want to buy stock?

First, we find that embryonic stem cell research has supposedly been starved for funds. From the story:

The biggest hurdle may have been the lack of government funding for stem cell studies. Because there is no federal money for this kind of research, other than through the National Institutes of Health, there has been little movement in the embryonic stem cell arena outside of Geron’s privately funded effort. That means regulators lack the data needed as comparison to Geron’s studies, further slowing the clinical-trial approval process.
But the NIH is the major funding arm for most federally funded research, so saying that only the NIH dished out government funds for ESCR is to state very little. Moreover, the NIH gave about $160 million during the Bush years for human ESCR. Add in Proposition 71’s California Institute of Regenerative Medicine has put out hundreds of millions as have other states. Indeed, when adding in philanthropic giving, the Rockefeller Institute noted in 2007 that nearly $2 billion has been poured into this research in the USA alone. Starved for funds? Hardly! The implication in the story that only Geron had money for embryonic stem cell research is thus baloney.

Geron is once again claiming it is on the verge of human clinical trials, including a description of the same rat videos that have made “news” for years:
In a video presentation to analysts and investors in New York in November, Geron showed rats with spinal cord injuries that could barely move. Within weeks after they were injected with the stem cell-derived drug known as GRNOPC1, the rodents were seen scurrying around their cages, back legs moving and tails no longer dragging.

Should the clinical trial be approved, a half-dozen spinal cord patients would be administered the drug seven to 14 days after they suffer traumatic injuries and during typical treatments, which include surgery, Okarma said. “It would be a single injection to restore function,” he said. “This goes way beyond the reach of pills and scalpels. [This year] human embryonic stem cells will finally reach the point of being tested in FDA-sponsored clinical trials in the U.S. “Hopefully, this will reach thousands of spinal-cord-injury patients.”
Geron has been claiming to be on the verge of human trials for at least five years. Perhaps this year it will be true. I just wish the media would stop publishing stories that look more like shilling than journalism.

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