Approval may spark more stem cell trials

January 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The announcement from Geron is also sparking hope that other clinical trials could soon follow testing stem cell therapies on a variety of diseases. And much of that work may also be done in the Bay Area.

Lynn Fielder suffers from severe Parkinson's Disease and believes the FDA's decision could jumpstart a new era.

"It does give me hope, it gives me a lot of hope," said Fielder.

At UCSF in San Francisco, crews continued work on the campus' new stem cell research center, which will include state of the art facilities for clinical trials.

Director Arnold Kriegstein says several therapies could be early candidates.

"One of those is Type One diabetes, where a one type of cell in pancreas is damaged and the possibility of replacing those with new cells is a really appealing strategy," said Dr. Kriegstein.

He also points to eye diseases like macular degeneration, which could potentially be treated with cell replacement, and also to the beating stem cells are already forming the basis of cardiac tissue.

"In heart attack, part of heart muscle dies if you could replace that heart muscle with new functioning heart muscle you could improve the outcome following that heart attack," said Dr. Kriegstein.

At CIRM, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, director Alan Trounson is about to launch a program that will give research teams multimillion dollar grants to help speed up their applications to the FDA.

"I think there's going to be a lot of degenerative diseases, your Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, these kinds of things," said Trounson.

And while the searchers all caution against expecting immediate breakthroughs, even the prospect of new treatments is a consolation to patients like Lynn.

"Parkinson's won't come soon, but any advance in regenerative or spinal treatment is hopeful," said Fielder.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine plans to solicit applications in a few months, and have money distributed to stem cell research teams by the end of the year, to help get their clinical trial applications to the FDA.