In shocking news this past Monday, Geron Corporation announced that it is voluntarily shutting down its embryonic stem cell therapy clinical trial citing “uncertain economic conditions.” In January 2009, the California-based biotech firm (Geron Corporation) became the first to receive FDA approval for a phase I clinical trial using embryonic stem cells. Researchers working on this clinical trial planned to select 8 to 10 people who had become paraplegics within two weeks of the start of the trial. During the trial, embryonic stem cells (requiring the destruction of unique human embryos) would be injected into the newly formed scar tissue with hopes that this would restore partial mobility. However, one month after the FDA approval was granted, the FDA placed a hold on the trial due to concern over cysts found in some of the rats from an earlier related experiment. Geron conducted another study on mice and in July 2010, the FDA hold was listed. In October 2010, the first patient enrolled in Geron’s clinical trial. To this date, only 4 patients have been enrolled.
But now, Geron has voluntarily chosen to shut down their clinical trial. Since California’s taxpayer dollars were funding Geron’s study, it’s unlikely “uncertain economic conditions” is the actual reason for Geron’s ordered halt. More likely, it is due to predicted inefficacy as was shown during Geron’s mice trials. As Dr. David Prentice of Family Research Council explains, “it’s highly unusual to close these clinical trials without any positive or negative results.” Embryonic stem cell research is touted as a field of study abounding with promise, but apparently that’s not what the researchers on this clinical trial were discovering. In fact, it’s so widely known that the expense is great and the chances of success (which are yet to be determined) are slim to none, even the ALS Association has refused to offer funding for a trial very similar to Geron’s.
The point is, ethical options exist and they are proven to work. In March of 2010, it was estimated that approximately 50,000 adult stem cell treatments are conducted each year. Cord blood (a type of adult stem cells) has successfully treated more than 60,000 patients with over 70 distinct conditions or disease. Neither of these types of stem cells requires the destruction of human life. Embryonic stem cells on the other hand, do require destruction of life, and have produced zero cures or treatments.
Even California has seen that embryonic stem cell research is futile according to an article in Investor’s Business Daily:
Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress. So supporters are embracing research they once opposed … The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR (embryonic stem cell research) to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research.
With all this in mind, the practical implication is this – Virginia must learn its lesson from Geron: stop wasting taxpayer dollars on failed research that requires the destruction of human life and invest in proven solutions. Additionally, Virginia should not try to lure companies that do embryonic stem cell research to Virginia through avenues such as tax credits; as by the very fact that they are doing this type of research, we know that they are making poor financial allocations and we don’t want a Solyndra on our watch.