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October 11th, 2010
03:30 PM ET

First human injected in human embryonic stem cell trial

After years of animal trials, the first human has been injected with cells from human embryonic stem cells, according to Geron Corporation, the company which is sponsoring the controversial study.

"This is the first human embryonic stem cell trial in the world," Geron CEO Dr. Thomas Okarma tells CNN.

Geron is releasing very few details about the patient, but will say that the first person to receive cells derived from human embryonic stem cells was enrolled in the FDA-approved clinical trial at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.  This person was injected with the cells on Friday.

The FDA first approved this clinical trial in January 2009, but later required further research before the study could proceed. The FDA gave final approval in July of this year.  This allowed the company to begin searching for the first patients who might qualify for this phase 1 clinical trial, which means scientists are trying to determine the safety of introducing these cells into a human.

To be eligible, patients have to have suffered what's called a complete thoracic spinal cord injury, which means  no movement below the chest. While patients can still move their arms and breathe on their own, they are complete paraplegics; they have no bowel or bladder control and can't move their legs, Okarma explains.

The injury to the spinal cord would have to have occurred between the third and tenth thoracic vertebrae and the patient has to be injected with the stem cell therapy, called GRNOPC1, within seven to 14 days after the injury.   "At the time of the injection, they [the cells] are programmed to make a new spinal cord – they insulate the damage [to the spinal cord]," says Okarma.  The cells work just like they would if they were in the womb and building a spine in a fetus, Okarma explains.

Embryonic stem cells are only four to five days old and have the ability to turn into any cell in the body.  But the cells that the patient receives aren't pure human embryonic stem cells anymore.  The cells in the GRNOPC1 therapy have been coaxed into becoming early myelinated glial cells, a type of cell that insulates nerve cells.

"For every cell we inject, they become six to 10 cells in a few months," says Okarma.  These cells can still divide some but will not become any type of cell other than glial cells, he explains.

The Geron CEO likens what these cells are doing to repairing a large electrical cable.  If the outer layer is damaged and the wire is exposed, it causes a short-circuit and the cable doesn't work anymore.  In the case of a spinal cord injury, these new stem-cell derived glial cells creep in between all the fibers and rewrap the nerve with myelin, which is like patching the cable.  The goal is to permanently repair the damage that caused the paralysis from the spinal cord injury.

"We're not treating symptoms here -  we're permanently regenerating tissue," says Okarma.

He adds that the goal of this stem cell therapy is to shift the outcome for someone who has just suffered a serious spinal cord injury, and go from a place where there's no hope for improvement to a situation where they can respond to physical therapy.  "If we could do that, this would be a spectacular result," Okarma says.

The purpose of the clinical trial at this stage is to determine safety – to determine that there are no bad side effects or rejection caused by the therapy. Only eight to 10 patients are approved to be in the safety phase of this clinical trial, and patients with new spinal cord injuries are expected to be enrolled at about seven sites in the United States.  Besides the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, also is recruiting patients.

The cells that are being injected into the patients are a product derived from stem cells that were harvested from leftover embryos from fertility clinics.  Because this process destroys the embryo, this type of research has been very controversial.  Consequently federal funding of this type of research has been equally controversial.  However, Okarma has previously told CNN that "zero federal funds" were used for their human embryonic stem cell product.


soundoff (687 Responses)
  1. Death Shaman

    Science is now Religion, Christians are the New Pagans, all has reached the evils of the garden of paradise on mother earths body. Now its mother earths time to begin to discipline her children, for Father has gone mad.

    October 12, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • myjyar

      Q. People keep on talking about Laminine, as well as The new breakthrough Stem Cell Technology.
      What is it?
      A. It is the most powerful Stem cell enhancer
      I found amazing infos at: http://supplementsfood.com

      August 7, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
  2. stu

    I heard the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were wrestling with God the other day and had him arm-barred. God said they better let go or else, but they didn't. Guess what? Nothing happened to them. God's a wuss.

    October 12, 2010 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rachel

      Youre so dumb.

      November 1, 2010 at 21:47 | Report abuse |
  3. Kris

    I just hope this works. This will be the beginning of a line of cures that will cure our loved ones. The embryos in IVF are left over anyway. They are not going to be used. The opponents of the program will change only if their loved one is affected ( I Hope they don't have to go to that length of pain to understand someone else's pain)

    October 12, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. In the middle

    Okay. All you people saying there is no God – back off. If a person believes in God, they shouldn't be told it's make-believe. That being said, this a tricky subject. As a pro-lifer, I understand the right-to-life issue here. However, as a parent, I know if my child had a terminal illness and embyronic stem cells could cure this ailment, I would be all for it. Look at from all sides, ladies and gentlemen. And don't attack people for having views different from your own.

    October 12, 2010 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rodrigo

      I am Deborah's Aunt Ethel from Southern California, I have known Deborah since her birth.. many many years ago.. I shared a breodom with her on Vacation, and we would stay up talking and laughing until we got in trouble, and was told to go to sleep from the DAD( Stan my little Brother).. I am also the Aunt who entertained the church with the flying skirt.. you will need to have Deborah tell you all about this. Praying for you daily.. and always remember your Warrior Within .. Love You.

      November 14, 2012 at 18:12 | Report abuse |
  5. ACS

    o that last comment was @ Evil, evil evil wicked wicked wicked, the first one.

    October 12, 2010 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. us

    who is sf and why are we so mad at this guy?

    October 13, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Linci

      Astrid! I thought you'd just never fgvrioen me for leaving you at Investis ;)Of course, everyone come and visit, I miss you all!Only thing is, its getting closer to winter in Melbourne, maybe wait until i travel up north again to sunny warm weather :)

      November 16, 2012 at 00:57 | Report abuse |
  7. Nathan

    All of you commenting on God... Nothing on this earth happens without him allowing it... There are more ways than killing unborn children to get thes cells. Many children die of natural causes and if it were mine I would want the body used for a cause.. The cause being to possibly saving 1 or more lives. Think of the possibilities this research will open... Granted everything used for good can be used for evil, look at nuclear energy but think of what good comes from it...We all don't agree on this issue but I believe the benefits from such research far outweighs the disadvantages.

    October 13, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mekiye

      I am Carolyn and a family freind of the Wehlings. Deborah has never disappointed me in the story-telling angle of life. She has made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. When I was told of her illness, my first comment was that some tremendous stories would evolve from this event. Right now, I am hurting for her, just as if she were one of my own kids. And I do agree she is so smart!

      November 14, 2012 at 20:27 | Report abuse |
    • Ranty

      For the last 3 years I have advocated tcicnehal education for all children and young adults. My approach has been to build and present a robot that interacts with people of all ages. Currently I have been taking this robot to schools and into their tech. classes with great success. I am now working with some of the colleges and universities in Minnesota (Century, U of M, St. Thomas) to present technology to schools in a new and exciting way. With the exception of college students who have volunteered to intern with me I am basically working alone with no financial support whatsoever. My company name is Robotogram, named by the children who have seen it, because as they put it; it is a mechanical device that delivers a message. This new hands on approach is new and proven to be great way to open doors to a lot of school age children. In a nutshell, I would appreciate any help you would be able to provide so I can continue my work. Robotogram.com

      November 16, 2012 at 00:05 | Report abuse |
  8. mike Johnson

    God speaks the truth!!!! dude ur awesome!!!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Romney

    God speaks the truth!!!! dude ur awesome!!!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Romney evangelist

    @SF Dude, your bullcrap
    turn on the radio and listen to some shawn hannity. U r so full of crap!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. gb

    get George Bush back in office!!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kyla Puklus

    This is NOT the first trial nor the first injection. The first trials began ten years ago in Delhi, India. I received embryonic stem cell therpy last Summer 2010 from Dr. Shroff at NuTech Mediworld.

    October 13, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. TheRush

    Fantastic! As a former spinal cord injury victim I know how awesome it is to get this kind of chance. I really hope this patient recovers and and gets movement back in the lower extremities. If it does happen it might open the eyes of all the people against this procedure. I cant stand the arguments people give against god. Just from personal experience; I know when I was paralyzed from the neck down I was praying and I was fighting t move again. I think a bit of everything helps; god, doctors, SELF MOTIVATION and some Cerebrolysin and human placenta injections. Anyways good luck to the patient, I hope it works out.

    October 13, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Improve Concentration

    Its about dang time!!

    October 13, 2010 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Evil, evil, evil wicked wicked wicked

    SF – you have no idea what you're talking about

    October 13, 2010 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. IMprove concentration

    Finally – we can all -rest easy

    October 13, 2010 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. CURE SMA

    To all you you who say that this is a bad thing. I know that their are several people who do not agree with this, but if a doctor came up to you and told you to take you child home and enjoy him for as long as you can, and that he will most likely die before his 2nd birthday. Would you use stem cells if this was an option? Or would you just watch him slowly die?
    If this was an option when my son was still alive I would have jumped on board in a heart beat. Instead of watching my sweet little baby suffer and die in my arms. After going through everything that we have been through, I am waiting for the day that this treatment works. This will be a great day, it will give so many babies a chance to actually live. Yea for stem cells, no baby deserves to live a life with any disease let alone Spinal Muscular Atropy.

    October 13, 2010 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ryan M

    Even though it is one of the most controversial issues in our world, this article makes me so happy because we are another step closer to making stem cell therapy a for sure thing. I believe in God and I think abortion is not the greatest thing, but I believe in science and that stem cell research will be one of the greatest and biggest changes in medical history. Unlike many, I have actually done a lot of research on this topic, so this subject means a lot to me. For years it has been a fight between liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-believers, but in reality, it should not be about your political standing or your beliefs, it should be about the patients that are suffering from so many different diseases and the potential cures these stem cells have.
    The thing that gets me is that when people think of stem cell research, they automatically think about killing an embryo so that the stem cells can be retrieved. As true as that may be, there are still so many other ways to get those stems. As the article explains, stem cells can be retrieved from embryos that were harvested and left unused. Some other ways that stems cells can be retrieved are from fetal pigs, umbilical cords, and even from some adults. I also find it so remarkable that one stem cell can develop into, for instance, a skeletal cell and then reproduce more skeletal cells. Even though I believe abortion is wrong and as wrong as it is for me to say this, what is so wrong with taking embryos from an aborted baby? The mother/parents have already decided to kill the baby, why not use the stem cells for a chance to find cures for hundreds of diseases. To me, it is well worth the risk if we could save so many lives and the end product is worth the risks stem cell therapy may have. We need to stop all of the arguments, grow up, and accept our differences so that we can be the change that is needed for the people that are completely helpless and that are dying on a daily basis from dangerous diseases.

    October 14, 2010 at 03:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jon

    Have a unique perspective on this issue. I have lived the last 15 years as a quadriplegic with the last 11 years as a ventilator dependent quadriplegic. Since 1981 I have endured some 19 surgical procedures for a condition called hydrocephalus. Each surgery which requires a plastic catheter tubing system to be removed and replaced to divert cerebral spinal fluid from my brain cavity to my abdomen. If this medical technology was operational years ago, my life would not be in my precarious situation. For those who invoke the word of God into this issue I invoke you to live one day of my life, just one day. I implore you to study your Christianity at a deeper level and practice it in the way the Lord Jesus Christ would want you to.

    October 14, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Shocked

    Wow it's very sad to see the arguments posted on this board. "You and your kind"...blows my mind people still speak this way in 2010. Everyone has a right to their own opinion but apparently some retards think everyone is wrong if they don't think like them. Talk about close minded…and you say you are a follower of God. There goes society for you…a big FAIL. I believe in God and have a strong faith and I still can manage to see the good in this research, in science in general. Anyone who questions why this isn’t in the bible are idiots. Maybe understand how the bible came about and when it was written and you’ll soon understand why stem cell research isn’t noted anywhere just like heart transplants and bone morrow transfers aren’t either. People are acting like scientist are going out at night and secretly killing babies to heal others. I’m a mother and I know for a fact any parent whose child is in danger of being paralyzed for life would consider stem cell treatments. If you don’t because your more worried about the embryo that wasn’t going to make it anyway then I feel sorry for your child because they have no hope. But hey like I said…everyone can have their own opinion I just wish people were intelligent enough to argue it and not sound like complete idiots babbling on trying to attack every person that agrees with the research. Maybe just maybe..they should research more into it before stating things they have no clue about.

    October 14, 2010 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. In shock

    Wow it's very sad to see the arguments posted on this board. "You and your kind"...blows my mind people still speak this way in 2010. Everyone has a right to their own opinion but apparently some retards think everyone is wrong if they don't think like them. Talk about close minded…and you say you are a follower of God. There goes society for you…a big FAIL. I believe in God and have a strong faith and I still can manage to see the good in this research, in science in general. Anyone who questions why this isn’t in the bible are idiots. Maybe understand how the bible came about and when it was written and you’ll soon understand why stem cell research isn’t noted anywhere just like heart transplants and bone morrow transfers aren’t either. People are acting like scientist are going out at night and secretly killing babies and pregnant woman to heal others. I’m a mother and I know for a fact any parent whose child is in danger of being paralyzed for life would consider stem cell treatments. If you don’t because your more worried about the embryo that wasn’t going to make it anyway then I feel sorry for your child because they have no hope. But hey like I said…everyone can have their own opinion I just wish people were intelligent enough to argue it and not sound like complete idiots babbling on trying to attack every person that agrees with the research. Maybe just maybe..they should look into the truth behind the research before stating things they have no clue about.

    October 14, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. In shock

    Wow it's very sad to see the arguments posted on this board. "You and your kind"...blows my mind people still speak this way in 2010. Everyone has a right to their own opinion but apparently some retards think everyone is wrong if they don't think like them. Talk about close minded…and you say you are a follower of God. There goes society for you…a big FAIL. I believe in God and have a strong faith and I still can manage to see the good in this research, in science in general. Anyone who questions why this isn’t in the bible are idiots. Maybe understand how the bible came about and when it was written and you’ll soon understand why stem cell research isn’t noted anywhere just like heart transplants and bone morrow transfers aren’t either. People are acting like scientist are going out at night and secretly killing babies to heal others. I’m a mother and I know for a fact any parent whose child is in danger of being paralyzed for life would consider stem cell treatments. If you don’t because your more worried about the embryo that wasn’t going to make it anyway then I feel sorry for your child because they have no hope. But hey like I said…everyone can have their own opinion I just wish people were intelligent enough to argue it and not sound like complete idiots babbling on trying to attack every person that agrees with the research. Maybe just maybe..they should research more into it before stating things they have no clue about.

    October 14, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. GOD

    God loves everyone. Who are you to speak for him?

    October 14, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nami

      I am Stan and I am The Dad' , Deborah's that is and Rachel's and Lois's and Andrew's( who has not posted anynhitg yet.) I am very proud of all of our children and their spouses. In this time of illness, I am especially proud to see how Deborah and Charles are dealing with it. The strong faith they are exhibiting is a great example to follow. I have watched Deborah is sports and school and life and she is definitely not a quitter' and I am sure that she will not quit now.

      November 14, 2012 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
  24. BAMA

    PARENTS: I would just like to know what you would have done if this was your child laying in that bed and couldnt move....i couldnt imagine such and incident happening to my child.....and cannot say that i blame them at all for what they did!

    October 15, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. BlueSea

    why ppl getting too mean here? its not even just religious view but its human sense. thought human us are different than others because we're having a heart to feel, a brain to think, hands to care/love :(

    October 15, 2010 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. ybs

    Go science; fak god/religion! :)

    http://bit.ly/twitterybs

    October 18, 2010 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. don't panic

    Words such as "right" and "wrong" imply a moral absolute, which is why emphatic people tend to use them. This is their way of sitting on their high horse and looking down upon everyone who does not agree with them. Words such as "correct" and "incorrect" do not hold such an implication, this is why high horse people avoid these, more precise terms. How difficult is it to say "I beleve this is incorrect handling of human embryos" rather than cast an extremely judgmental "This is wrong." And for the record, the people running the research don't care what dissidents think or believe, so you might as well keep your mouth shut.

    October 18, 2010 at 19:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. In shock

    OMG I can’t read this anymore. So many uneducated people and so many people that just want to attack everyone for approving the research. Blows my mind how people are responding to this…how uneducated and judgmental everyone sounds. Shocks me even more when someone calls them self a Christian yet speaks down to people like this. Get over yourselves. Understand science before you go bashing it. Really understand how ignorant you sound. If you are against it fine…but no need to try bashing everyone who is for it.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. THANKFUL MOM

    As a mother of a sci son i am grateful for the help of any kind (medical ,spiritual or miraculos) to try to find a cure for this disability. If God didnt want this to happen than he wouldnt have opened this door to the opportunity of helping sci people by the use of stem cells. Guess it is all a matter of opinion when it comes to the cells being embryo or not.My opinion is i think of the embryotic cells as being organ donors ...why waste a precious gift when it is looking us in the face! Good luck to those with this opportunity to improve their lives and GOD BLESS YOU ALL!

    October 22, 2010 at 06:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. THANKFUL MOM

    Ya all should start another link to bash each other and keep this a positive site......karma is a bitch so watch ya a$$!....just my opinion

    October 22, 2010 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. just my opinion

    I might not know much about stem cells other than what we hear in the media, but I have a health problem with no known cause and many believe it is a nerve disorder. I am in constant pain and the other fda medications approved for my condition did not work for me. This disease might be hereditary, and believe me, if my son becomes ill I will want the best possible treatment available. If this medication or treatment comes from stem cells, then I will have to trust God that it was His plan for it to work. I also believe that God allows us to make advances in science and medicines. Even if you do not believe as I do, please dont wish for this type of advancement to stop. If you dont like it, than there is no reason for you to use it if treatments become available. You will have a choice to use this medication or not, so dont if you dont like how it was "made".

    October 30, 2010 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. MDX

    wish for the pateint all good health and, wish for stem cell research to not stop developing

    November 14, 2010 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. proudmonkey

    If you dont like it , dont use it when you become paralized or some other condition happens to you.

    As far as God, if God exists, then God created the human brain, to be used for whatever, good and bad( if god wanted only good he would have made things that way) if there is a God.! I hope this guy walks, and I hope this research yields positive results that will move humans forward.

    June 2, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Toni

      We met Charles and Deborah because of the Minnesota Vikings. My hunbsad, our two boys and (I'm pretty sure) Charles dream in purple and gold, and I greatly enjoy watching their excitement on those Sundays in the Fall. They've also been such great support to each other when the mighty fall. From this beginning, we learned more about this wonderful family. Deborah and I share a love for our Redbirds, both being from the greatest state in the Nation! I really do think we have more in common than sports but that's not a bad beginning!! Deborah also teaches my oldest in Kindergarten and I look forward to her facing off with our youngest in a couple of years! Thinking of you always.Karey

      November 14, 2012 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
  34. myjyar

    I've been searching for this Stem Cell for a long time , I'm so much amazed on every one's stories from the news and sites on how stem cells has help them recovered on any type of sicknesses and diseases, even cancer can be cured by this type of treatment. One big factor is that it's not a drug but it will just treat your body in a nice and natural way your body could do to fix them. Stem Cells therapy is nice until i found this Laminine on the Market. People keeps on talking about it saying its the new science breakthrough that I should give a try. It's not a literal stem cell but it is a Stem Cell enhancer, safer than the usual way of Stem Cell Therapy. I found the amazing info at

    http://supplementsfood.com – Promotes Laminine

    and I gave it a try and in just a few weeks I felt its proven power that I also recommend to every one out there. Thanks!

    August 7, 2012 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Adem

    Deborah and I led parallel lives for a while. We met in colgele and sang in the awesome alto section of choir (along with Lauren, our fearless section leader). We discovered that we had lived in the same teacherage (during different years, of course) as our parents were Lutheran school teachers. We attended Concordia together. I was an RA for our floor; she was my sub-RA during student teaching. THAT was easy money for her.Deborah taught in Minnesota; upon graduation, I moved just 30 minutes away from her to teach in a Lutheran school. Deborah got married and moved away; I got married and moved away.Deborah and Charles moved to Nebraska; Jerome and I moved to Nebraska, just 30 minutes away. Deborah taught at a Lutheran school; I taught at the same Lutheran school. Deborah bore Macy; I bore Joanna. Since we were both home with babies, we got together weekly for play-dates and a check-in with real adults for real conversation.And that is where the parallels end. We just couldn't keep up with the Gebhardts in the child department, and then they moved to the beautiful ski country of Utah.

    November 14, 2012 at 03:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Ningsih

    Maureen, your blog and pictures are truly esuxiqte. The picture of the cherries and cherry sign are so comforting and familar to me, having grown up in Mich. and visiting TC. Your may want to consider selling your photos.

    November 16, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Emperatrice

    Re: The Media Matters The Media's Tax Fraud When is a tax cut for 98 percent of tapyexars portrayed as a tax increase? When some of the small handful of people whose taxes will go up happen to control the nation's news media. . This needs to change un do it. When some of the small handful of people whose taxes will go up happen to control the nation's news media, the lies go unchecked and unchallenged, at the least.And this is not much under Obama's plan, under which the tax rates paid on income in the top brackets would revert to their levels under President Clinton in the 1990s from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent. Slate.com's Daniel Gross estimates that for someone with $350,000 in income, this will amount to about $1,500 a year in increased taxes.Now, if the REAGAN tax cuts could be un doed! THAT would be something make those people put the money back into the business rather than take the money and run and play! During Reagan's tenure, income tax rates of the top personal tax bracket dropped from 70% to 28% in 7 years, while social security and medicare taxes increased there were small bumps in jobs and such, but the overall results are being felt now. Trickle down economics what trickled down was the cost of running the gov't to the middle class folks, cost was not borne equally based on ability to pay.The Evilness began in Reagan's Presidency.

    November 16, 2012 at 01:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Angelina

    Yes. My cat wakes me up at exactly 4 a.m. every fakerin' day. It's the reason that he was kicked out of four previous houses and was about to go back to be euthanized (what a word) when i took him in 12 years ago.I love him. And can put up with the alarm clock. I'll check in with G+ and then go back to sleep.I shouldn't say everyday since once in a while he's sleep til 6 a.m. and then I'm like: wow! How fantastic. It's part of the reason that so many of my pictures were done in what seems like the middle of the night.If I had a "real job" I wouldn't be able to do this but my schedule is so fluid that I can deal with it.

    November 16, 2012 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Stan

    These people have been telling so many lies about embryonic stemcells,I don,t believe anything they say anymore.Embryonic cells can't duplicate every kind of cell tissue because they are rejected by the host. And cause rumors and cancer.A half truth is the same as a whole lie.

    January 28, 2013 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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