While removing your pet mouse from the cage, he drops to the floor and breaks his spine. Don't worry! In an article published today, researchers showed that StemCells' (Nasdaq: STEM) human neural stem cells were able to improve walking ability in mice with spinal cord injuries.

What? You're not interested in spending thousands of dollars to save your pet? I'm guessing there's a very limited market for the currently proven use of this technology.

All kidding aside, I'm fully behind doing these types of experiments. You have to start somewhere; I used to study DNA repair in yeast in the hopes it would translate into a cure for cancer somewhere down the line. And the fact that the stem cells were transplanted 30 days after the injury is impressive.

My beef is with investors who read too much into these types of reports. We're a long way off from having a cure in humans. Geron (Nasdaq: GERN) recently restarted its phase 1 trial using stem cells to cure spinal injuries after the Food and Drug Administration put a hold on the program, and StemCells doesn't plan to move into clinical trials until next year. It's hard to see how the publication results in StemCells being worth 37% more than it was yesterday.

The euphoria has subsided a little with shares up just 13% as I write this. That's a little more reasonable, but just remember you're essentially buying a lottery ticket investing in this or any other unproven early stage technology. The payoff will certainly be huge if the technology pans out, but there's also a serious chance you'll lose your shirt.

A less-risky way to get involved with stem cell research is to invest in companies where that research isn't the main focus. The returns won't be as great, but if Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE) or GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE: GSK) stem cell programs blow up, it won't be the end of the world for the company or your investment.

Another approach is to invest in companies such as Life Technologies (Nasdaq: LIFE) and Sigma-Aldrich (Nasdaq: SIAL). These companies -- StemCells can also be included -- sell tools researchers need to study stem cells. The purveyors of picks and shovels get paid whether or not gold is found, but StemCells seems to be more focused on hitting the mother lode. We'll see how the role of speculator turns out.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. GlaxoSmithKline is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline and has a disclosure policy.