The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have given their permission for Glasgow University, together with the ReNeuron Group plc, to begin a clinical trial to investigate the use of stem cells in the treatment of ishaemic stroke, the most common form of the condition.
The trial, which is the first of its kind in the world, will establish the safety and feasibility of injecting stem cells directly into the brain. If the trial is successful, further research will take place into how effectively this method could be used to treat victims of stroke.
Dr. Keith Muir, the Principal Investigator for the trial, explained to Guardian how important this preliminary research is to the development of improved care for stroke patients.
He said: “It will be the first time that stem cells are used as a potential treatment for stroke by delivering them directly into the brain.
“If the trial establishes that the treatment is safe then there can be further trials to establish the effectiveness of the treatment.”
Although the trial has been approved by the MHRA, it must also receive ethical approval from the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee before any work can begin. It is, however, unlikely that the trial will not be granted permission to go ahead.
Stem cell therapy has been the source of much debate in recent years, with many religious groups decrying the use of embryonic research in particular.
Father John Keenan, Glasgow University’s Catholic chaplain, told Guardian that although Catholicism opposes embryonic research they were in support of adult stem cell research.
He said: “We draw a fundamental distinction between embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research. We are always asking the media to make that distinction. We are against embryonic research, that is to say, you creating human embryo and the purpose of creating that embryo is to harvest stem cells, then you use the stem cells at the destruction of the human embryo.”
When asked about the ethical implications of using foetal-derived stem cells in a medical trial, Dr. Muir replied that, whilst he understood that some opposed the use of stem cells, the therapy has the potential to become vitally important in treating diseases which, at present, have very few treatment options available.
He told Guardian: “I think that the other side of the ethics debate is that there are a lot of people who understand the importance of stem cell therapy in medicine.
“It is important in repairing the damage to tissue that does not normally repair itself, for example, the brain and spinal cord.
“Medical treatments in that area to date haven’t been terribly successful and future stem cell therapy will be important in changing that.”
Dr. Muir was keen to stress that if the trial goes ahead it will still be only the first of many steps before any possible treatment would be available to the general public.
He explained: “I would never have expected to be running this sort of trial if you had told me two years ago. It’s a good starting point but it is important to remember that there is still a long way to go.”