Stem-Cell Research Takes Bold Step

Let the controversy begin: Researchers are preparing to inject new cells made from embryonic stem cells into humans for the first time. The landmark attempt, to be made by privately funded but government-approved pioneers, will focus on patients with chronic conditions. “We’re very optimistic,” says Thomas B. Okarma, the head of Geron Corp. in California, which recently earned approval from the FDA to study patients with paralysis stemming from spinal-cord injuries. Still, the technology is untested, with many fearing that injected stem cells could cause unexpected—or worse, unsafe—results, damaging the reputation of an already contentious field. Advocates worry about another case like that of Jesse Gelsinger, whose 1999 death was linked to gene-therapy experiments. As the head of one stem-cell research program said, “There’s going to be this perception that if the cells do not perform well, the entire field will be illegitimate.”