Technology Review (MIT) | June 21, 2011 | By Antonio Regalado
Hans Keirstead wakes up every morning at his home near Los Angeles and checks CNN. He’s looking for news about the first-ever human test of embryonic stem cells, launched in October by the biotechnology firm Geron. Mostly, he’s looking for bad news. “If someone dies, or is in pain, then it’s over,” he says, pushing a hand through his tawny hair. Keirstead, dressed in a loose linen shirt and wearing a thumb ring, is a biologist at the University of California, Irvine, who has variously been called the “rock star,” “miracle worker,” and “Pied Piper” of stem-cell science. Today he has a corner office in a new $67 million research center paid for in part by California voters, whom he helped persuade to vote for a $3 billion stem-cell spending plan in 2004 with a video of partially paralyzed rats walking again after stem-cell transplants performed in his laboratory.
That same treatment is now being tested in human beings. No wonder Keirstead is anxious. Although he is not directly involved in the clinical trial, the discovery he patented, promoted to Californians, and later licensed to Geron has now become the leading test of whether embryonic stem cells will finally live up to their medical potential. “I’m dying to know if it works,” he says.
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