A Californian bio-tech company has pulled the plug on the world’s first trial using embryonic stem cells to treat human patients, claiming the project is too expensive.
But critics say the trial has been halted because it simply doesn’t work, and it shows that the promises of amazing cures from embryonic stem cells are over-hyped.
The idea of using embryonic stem cells in medical treatment is hugely controversial because it involves the destruction of human embryos.
Other research has concentrated on adult stem cells, which does not destroy embryos and has so far resulted in over 100 treatments or clinical trials.
The American trial involved four people with spinal cord injuries. They were injected with millions of cells derived from embryonic stem cells.
But earlier this week the bio-tech company Geron announced that it was ending the research project.
Josephine Quintavalle from the British campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: “At long last after 10 years of unremitting hype, reality has caught up with embryonic stem cell claims.
“If Geron is abandoning this project it is because it is simply not working, despite the millions of dollars and hot air that has been invested in the promotion of this research.”
However Ben Sykes, Executive Director of the UK National Stem Cell Network, said: “It is disappointing that Geron has taken the decision to stop its spinal cord injury trial but we hope that the company is able to find new partners who can take on the work and provide the necessary finance.”
John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at University College London said: “The Geron trial had no real chance of success because of the design and the disease targeted.
“It was an intrinsically flawed study. And for that reasons we should not be describing this as a set back.”
Last month the European Court of Justice ruled that scientists will no longer be able to patent stem cell work which involves the destruction of human embryos.
Commentators welcomed the ruling, with one bioethics group saying it was a “triumph of ethical standards over commercial interest”.