When Timothy Atchinson was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident last September, he accepted an offer to be the initial participant in the world’s first clinical trial of a human embyronic stem cell-based treatment for damaged spinal cord tissue. The treatment was created in the lab of Hans Keirstead, a neurobiologist with the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine. Atchinson, a 21-year-old nursing student in Alabama, was treated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta – one of seven centers recruited by Geron Corp., a Menlo Park, Calif., biotechnology company sponsoring the trial on 10 patients. Now, months after the treatment – in which about 2 million cells were transplanted into his injured spinal cord – he is beginning to feel some very slight sensation in his legs. Atchinson shared his story with The Washington Post. “This is awesome news,” said Keirstead. “Timothy is a true pioneer, and we’re excited and hopeful that this is the first step toward a stem cell-based treatment for the thousands of Americans who suffer spinal cord injuries each year.”