Stem Cell Study Stirs Controversy

Geron starts trial, stock price on the rise

By Scott Budman
|  Monday, Oct 11, 2010  |  Updated 7:19 PM PDT
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Stem cell clinical trial take a giant step forward.

Stem cell clinical trial take a giant step forward.

There is now, in the world of embryonic stem cell testing, a patient one.

Silicon Valley biotech company Geron says it has started a clinical trial of its embryonic stem cell therapy, with the goal of curing spinal cord injuries.  And this time, the key is that the testing is being done on embryonic stem cells.  In the past, companies like Geron have been able to test stem cells, but the controversy surrounding embryonic cells, which are typically harvested from human embryos left over after in-vitro fertilization attempts, is intense, because many people feel that destroying a human embryo in any form is wrong.

But a recent thaw in legislation has given Geron a (possibly brief) window to test embryonic cells, which companies like Geron say are especially valuable, because they can morph into any type of cell.  Because of these morphing qualities, scientists are excited about the possibilities of these cells.  Investors are also excited, sending shares of Geron (GERN) stock sharply higher this morning.  While Geron has the first FDA license to use these cells to try and treat people, other companies in the stem cell arena are watching their share values jump as well, because of optimism.

It's not just a bad pun to say that this type of research is in its embryonic stages.  Lawsuits and government rulings aside, it's very early in the process to say that these cells can do wonders.  There is optimism, though, and when you get that mixed with Silicon Valley scientific know-how, you often get results.

Look for the science to move forward on this, with controversy very close behind.

Scott Budman covers technology for NBC.  He's on Twitter:  @scottbudman

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