Reaching a major milestone for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first human clinical trial for a treatment based on embryonic stem cells. The trial—to be conducted by biotechnology company Geron Corp.—will focus on the safety of a treatment for spinal cord injury. The trial will start with up to 10 paralyzed patients who can be treated within 14 days of their injury. If it’s found safe, the company will expand the trial and shift its focus to effectiveness.

The announcement comes at a pivotal time for embryonic stem cell research. Limited for years by federal funding restrictions, a major policy-shift in support of ESCR is expected in the near future. While President Obama has noted that he may leave it up to Congress to lift restrictions, during his campaign he was a strong supporter of undoing the Bush Administration’s bans. Public support is also undeniable—a recent survey from Opinion Research Corp. found that 73% of Americans believe President Obama should keep his pledge to lift current restrictions.

However it’s accomplished, it’s definitely time for change. Despite some major strides in ESCR, funding restrictions are continuing to deter collaborative efforts, discourage new researchers to the field, delay breakthroughs, and limit research to the few non-diverse stem cells lines that have been approved. ESCR has already proven its potential—you can read more in this white paper from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research—but without lifting federal restrictions there is no doubt we will fail to see it fulfill all of its amazing promise. Read more about the Alliance’s position.