Spinal cord, HIV stem cell treatments funded

Posted: May 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

Phil Reyes, one of the Parkinson's patients in Summit 4 Stem Cell, urges California's stem cell agency to support its research.

A potentially groundbreaking trial to treat spinal cord injuries with tissue grown from human embryonic stem cells will resume, after being funded by the California's stem cell agency.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's governing committee approved without opposition a $14.3 million award to Asterias Biotherapeutics of Menlo Park. Asterias is taking over from Geron, which stopped clinical trials in November, 2011. Geron, also of Menlo Park, said it discontinued the trials for business reasons. Asterias is a subsidiary of Alameda-based BioTime.

Patients will be given transplants of neural tissue grown from the embryonic stem cells. The hope is that the cells will repair the severed connections, restoring movement and sensation below the injury site.

CIRM also unanimously approved a $5.6 million grant for another potential breakthrough: a clinical trial by Sangamo Biosciences of Richmond, Calif, to cure HIV infection with gene therapy. The trial is now in Phase II. Immune cells are taken from the patient and given a mutant form of a gene that HIV uses to get inside the cells. The mutated gene resists infection. The genetically altered cells are then given back to the patient.

Approval of both grants had been expected, as staff reports had recommended their approval. The agency met in San Diego.

In addition CIRM's Independent Citizens Oversight Committee funded $16.2 million in grants to bring three stem cell researchers to California. That vote was more contentious, with some committee members arguing that it made no sense to bring more scientists to California without a specific need. In addition, they argued that CIRM's main emphasis needs to be on funding clinical trials.

Member Jeff Sheehy said that bringing the scientists to California doesn't create more scientific capacity. However, a vote to deny funding failed, and a subsequent vote to approve funding passed.

CIRM is projected to run out of its $3 billion in bond funding by 2017, and supporters of the public agency are considering asking California voters for more money.

Also appearing at the CIRM meeting were advocates of funding a stem cell-based therapy for Parkinson's disease. The therapy, which may be approved in 2015 for a clinical trial, uses artificial embryonic stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells grown from the patient's own skin cells. The group, Summit 4 Stem Cell, plans to ask for funding to help with the trial in the near future.

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Spinal cord, HIV stem cell treatments funded

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