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It is a sobering time for US stem cell researchers. Just days after a national election set the stage for the possible criminalization of embryonic stem cell research, a popular television program portrayed such cells incubating in patients in coma, ready to be used to treat a wealthy man's Parkinson disease. A video presented at the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting in Baltimore a month earlier, however, told a very different story--this one real.

The video showed rats that had been paralyzed with virally induced spinal muscular atrophy. A few were hobbling about, some dragging their hindquarters or taking halting, stumbling steps, courtesy of human neural stem cells infused into their spinal cords. Doug Kerr, assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, provided the spinal cord injury model and protocol, and John Gearhart, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Hopkins,...

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