Preclinical data from drug companies usually don't get much attention. It's nice to keep up with what's happening in the laboratory, but drugs that early in the pipeline generally don't drive stock prices. Unless the company is involved in revolutionary science -- then publication in a well-respected journal will cause an 8% jump in stock price.

Stem cell researchers at Geron (NASDAQ:GERN) in conjunction with scientists at University of Washington have demonstrated that heart cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) can improve heart function when injected into hearts after heart attacks. The research in rats is the first evidence of potential clinical applications for heart attack victims using stem cells.

One major obstacle the researchers had to overcome was that stem cells tend to die when transplanted into animals. The team designed a cocktail of nutrients that helped the stem cells survive. The cocktail also caused the cells stick to the damaged part of the heart and become tissue grafts, improving the heart's condition. The new cells even beat in unison with the rest of the heart.

Another barrier for the researchers was the production of enough heart cells; the research isn't very useful to a biotech company if it can't make enough of the cells to make a commercial product. The article in the Aug. 26 issue of Nature Biotechnology describes how the researchers were able to derive heart cells from hESC and purify the desired cells away from the impurities.

If research continues on track, Geron expects to ask FDA to start clinical trials late next year or in early 2009. Combining the most recent data with its lead embryonic stem cell product GRNOPC1 for the treatment of spinal cord injury, Geron is looking pretty strong against competitors, StemCells (NASDAQ:STEM) and ViaCell (NASDAQ:VIAC).

More than anything, I think the research shows that Geron has hired smart scientists. While research sometimes comes down to luck, good researchers seem able to put themselves in the right positions to get that "lucky" result. Geron is still a long way away from having an FDA-approved stem cell product, but it has other drugs much farther along in the clinic. Those potential oncology products should balance out some of the risk from the unproven stem cell technology for this developmental stage biotech company.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a well-tested disclosure policy.