The partially paralyzed young man who became the first person to test a therapy made from human embyonic stem cells is in good spirits and hopeful about recovering, family and friends said.
“Things are going really good,” said Angela Atchison of Millry, Ala., of her 21-year-old nephew, Timothy J. Atchison, in the first public acknowledgment of his identity and condition.
Timothy, known as T.J., was a student at the University of Alabama College of Nursing when he was partially paralyzed in a Sept. 25 car accident, his aunt and father said. He agreed to let doctors infuse more than 2 million cells made from stem cells into his spine 13 days later at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, according to his aunt and a family friend.
The experiment is seen by both supporters and opponents of embryonic stem cell research as potentially pivotal to the future of the research, which proponents say could revolutionize medicine and critics denounce as immoral.
No additional information, including the patient’s identity, has been released since the start of the closely guarded experiment was announced Oct. 11 by Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which is sponsoring the study.
T.J. did not respond to repeated calls and messages seeking an interview. The Shepherd Center and Geron refused to comment.
But Angela Atchison and Tory Minus of Millry, a family friend, acknowledged he was the volunteer during telephone interviews with The Washington Post and in blog postings.
The trial is primarily assessing safety, but doctors are also testing whether the cells restore sensation and movement. It was too soon to tell whether the cells were helping T.J., Angela Atchison said.