In the six months since scientists announced they had infused a drug made from human embryonic stem cells into a partially paralyzed patient’s spine, the identity of the recipient has been shrouded in secrecy. Now, a 21-year-old Alabama nursing student who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash in September has come forward to identify himself as the volunteer.
“I was the first patient,” Timothy J. Atchison of Chatom, Ala., said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday evening. “I’m doing well.” The trial is primarily assessing safety, but doctors are also testing whether the cells restore sensation and movement.
Atchison’s father said that his son has maintained a positive attitude, beginning when he was in the emergency room after the accident, and that he understood how seriously he was injured. “He said, whatever the Lord leaves him with, he’ll do the best he can with it.”
Surgeons used specially designed equipment to infuse into the first patient’s spine about 2 million “oligodendrocyte progenitor” cells, which Geron scientists had created in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells obtained from days-old embryos left over from fertility treatments. The hope is that the cells will form a restorative sheath around the damaged spinal cord. In tests in hundreds of rats, partially paralyzed animals regained the ability to move, according to Geron. Washington Post