1st Human Embryonic Stem Cell Study Set, may repair Central Nervous system damage by repairing myelin sheath in nerve cells.

1st Human Embryonic Stem Cell Study Set

10 Paralyzed Patients to Get Stem Cells in Spine
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 23, 2009 — Geron Corp. will test its OPC1 cells in 10 patients completely paralyzed by recent spinal cord injuries. It’s the first FDA-approved study of an embryonic stem cell product in human patients.

Patients enrolled in the study will have suffered very severe spinal cord injuries that have completely cut off nerve signals from the spine to the brain.

A major factor in such injuries is loss of the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells. It’s hoped that the OPC1 cells will restore nerve function not only by replacing lost myelin but by giving off chemical signals that promote new nerve growth.

That’s the hope. But first things first: The initial 10-patient study will use small doses to make sure the treatment is safe. Only if safety is ensured will the trial be expanded to use therapeutic doses of the cells. However, even this first study will gather data to see if there’s any sign of improvement.

“This marks the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics,” Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, MD, PhD, said in a news conference. “We hope to achieve the restoration, perhaps permanently, of organ function by the injection of replacement cells. … We are simply harnessing the biology of normal human development.”

Okarma suggests that the OPC1 cells may not only help restore damaged spinal cords, but might also help patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, stroke, and other diseases of the central nervous system.

The Geron cells are grown in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells. The OPC1 cells used in the treatment are not early stem cells, but have developed into “precursor” cells destined to be oligodendrocytes — the cells that make up the myelin sheaths that coat nerves in the spinal cord.

Cell biologist Robert McKeon, PhD, studies spinal cord injuries at his Emory University lab. He’s familiar with the Geron cells.

“They are asking these cells to do something I don’t know they are capable of doing,” McKeon tells WebMD. “The hype we often hear is that these cells will reconstitute the spinal cord and provide new tissues to promote recovery. When you ask oligodendrocytes to grow nerve cells, to make synapses, and to modulate the inflammatory damage from the injury — that is a lot to ask an oligodendrocyte to do.”

Okarma notes that the OPC1 cells have restored nerve functions in animal studies. But McKeon says actual human spine injuries are much more complicated than those studied in lab animals.

McKeon says much will be learned from the Geron study. But he warns patients that the treatment is far from proven, and that much work remains to be done.

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Victoria Williams is one of my favorite musicians, hear her songs here; still rocking after first being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 15 years ago…

Victoria Williams‘ album, loose, is one of my favorite records of all time.  She is a very talented singer, guitarist and song writer.  The anonymous authors at Wikipedia describe her, thus:

Victoria Williams (born December 23, 1958 in Shreveport, Louisiana) is an American singer/songwriter and musician, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, although she has resided in Southern California throughout her musical career. She is noted for her descriptive songwriting talent, which she has used to immerse the listener of her songs into a vivid feeling of small-town, rural Southern upbringing and life. Her best-known songs include “Crazy Mary“, and “Century Plant“. Finding inspiration in nature, (“Weeds”, “Century Plant,” “Why Look at the Moon”), everyday objects (“Shoes,” “Frying Pan”) and the unseen, as in “Holy Spirit”. Wonder, delight and awe are the primary moods of her music….”

In 1993, Victoria was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and, despite all of her talent and success, found herself struggling to pay the mounting medical bills which treatment for her newly discovered condition required.  In response to Victoria’s need, many in the American musical community came together to raise money to help her and created what is now known as the Sweet Relief Fund, Wikipedia says the following about this event:

“In 1993, Williams’ life took a dramatic turn when she learned that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. In 1993, an array of artists from different genres, including Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Maria McKee, Soul Asylum, Lucinda Williams and others, joined together to record some of Williams’ songs for a tribute/benefit project called Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams. This led to the creation of the Sweet Relief Fund, a charity that aids professional musicians (of any stature) in need of health care. That year, Williams also released a new album herself, entitled Loose. Pearl Jam had covered her song “Crazy Mary” for Sweet Relief, however, Williams performed her own version of the song, and made a video that brought her closer to public notice and gained her more of a following after it ran on MTV and Vh1 in 1994, and is still played on both cable channels.”

…thankfully she has since continued create one incredible song after another.  To see how she’s doing these days, you may visit her Myspace page to which she occasionally posts new blog entries from her home near Joshua Tree National Park; or, visit her biggest fan site, here for new Victoria Williams news.

Here are a few of my favorite Victoria Williams  songs for you to enjoy:

‘Century Plant’ and ‘Crazy Mary,’ performed live at the House of Blues:

You are Loved: (performed live on Jay Leno)

Sunshine Country: