Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A California Stem Cell Clinical Trial, Eye Disease and Willie Brown

The $3 billion California stem cell agency today reported the kickoff of treatment in another clinical trial and managed to wrap a famous California politician into the story as well.

The research in the trial has been supported by the state at a nominal amount of $19 million. The cost to taxpayers roughly doubles, however, because of interest on the funds, which are borrowed by the state.

Willie Brown
The politician is Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and former speaker of the California Assembly, the second most powerful position in state government, certainly when Brown was in the post.

Brown, now 81, has retinitis pigmentosa(RP), the disease that is targeted by the clinical trial.

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Writing on the agency’s Stem Cellar blog, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for the agency, said,
“The trial is the work of Dr. Henry Klassen at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Dr. Klassen just announced the treatment of their first four patients, giving them stem cells that hopefully will slow down or even reverse the progression of RP.”
McCormack continued,
“The patients were each given a single injection of retinal progenitor cells. It’s hoped these cells will help protect the photoreceptors in the retina that have not yet been damaged by RP, and even revive those that have become impaired but not yet destroyed by the disease. 
“The trial will enroll 16 patients in this Phase 1 trial. They will all get a single injection of retinal cells into the eye most affected by the disease. After that, they’ll be followed for 12 months to make sure that the therapy is safe and to see if it has any beneficial effects on vision in the treated eye, compared to the untreated one.”
McCormack said that Klassen's work offers hope to all those afflicted by disease, including the former mayor. Brown is not believed to be in the trial, but identities of patients are not usually revealed. He has said very little publicly about his condition, but recently talked about it during a speech at a conference held by the Everylife Foundation for Rare Diseases.

McCormack reported,
“He described how people thought he was being rude because he would walk by them on the streets and not say hello. The truth is, he couldn’t see them.
“He was famous for driving fancy cars like Bentleys, Maseratis and Ferraris. When he stopped doing that, he said, ‘people thought I was broke because I no longer had expensive cars.’ The truth is his vision was too poor for him to drive.”­­
Brown sponsored a stem cell symposium in 2004 backing the ballot initiative that created the $3 billion stem cell agency. The news media have not reported any recent comments by him on the agency’s work, according to a Google search.

Here are links to the agency’s press release on the trial, an earlier progress report on Klassen’s research and the NIH clinical trial site with enrollment information for the trial.
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