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Vatican to finance stem cell research


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By ALESSANDRA RIZZO, Associated Press Writer Alessandra Rizzo, Associated Press Writer – Fri Apr 23, 2:09 pm ET


ROME – The Vatican is pushing for research of adult stem cells as an alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells, which the Catholic Church opposes because it maintains that the destruction of the embryo amounts to the killing of human life.


On Friday, the Catholic Church threw its support and resources behind the study of intestinal adult stem cells by a group of experts led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The group wants to explore the potential use of those cells in the treatment of intestinal and possibly other diseases, and is seeking an initial euro2 million ($2.7 million) to get the project going, officials said.


"This research protects life," Cardinal Renato Martino said during a meeting with Italian and American scientists and health officials to outline the project. "I want to stress that it doesn't involve embryonic stem cells, where one helps oneself and then throws the embryo away and kills a human life."


The church is opposed to embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos, but it supports the use of adult stem cells, which are found in the bodies of all humans. Human embryonic stem cells are produced from surplus embryos of in vitro fertilization procedures used to help infertile women get pregnant.


Both are prized for their ability to morph into other kinds of cells, offering the possibility of replacing tissue damaged by ailments such as Parkinson's disease.


But adult cells are thought to be less versatile than embryonic ones, and scientists have had more trouble growing adult stem cells in the laboratory than embryonic cells.


Still, adult stem cells could be easier to use if they are taken from patients themselves, because the replacement tissue would have less chance of being rejected.


Martino, a powerful cardinal and retired head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told The Associated Press after the meeting that he had "no doubt" that the Vatican would help finance the project through its Rome hospital, Bambin Gesu, and other funding. The exact amount and modalities will be worked out in future meetings with the University of Maryland and other scientists involved in the project.


In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said the Catholic Church can encourage somatic stem cell research — also known as adult stem cell research — "because of the favorable results obtained through these alternative methods," and more importantly because it respects "the life of the human being at every stage of his or her existence."


During his visit to Washington last year, Benedict underscored his beliefs about stem cells by giving President Barack Obama a copy of a Vatican document on bioethics that hardened the church's opposition to using embryos for stem cell research, cloning and in-vitro fertilization.


Obama has lifted restrictions, imposed by his predecessor President George W. Bush, on federal funding of research using human embryonic stem cells.


The Vatican has drawn criticism for its opposition to embryonic stem cell research. But it insists there are scientifically viable alternatives and that the efforts of the scientific community should go in that direction.


Supporting this university project is part of those efforts.


"Ethically, the rules the Catholic Church promotes are really very simple: That all research be respectful of human life," said Father Bob Gahl, an American professor of Moral Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. "Nobody should be killed in the process of doing medical research. So this new project falls exactly within the Catholic Church's ethical guidelines."


Dr. George Daley, a stem cell expert at Children's Hospital in Boston and past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, said both adult and embryonic stem cells may prove useful for treating different diseases.


"I applaud the Vatican for being interested in supporting biomedical research," Daley said Friday, "but I can't help but think there's an agenda."


He called intestinal stem cells "a very exciting area of basic research" but said therapeutic uses are only speculative at this point.


Researchers involved in the Vatican-backed project are convinced that intestinal stem cells — a relatively new field _hold promise and want to assess their potential for therapeutic use.


"We want to harvest them, we want to isolate them, we want to make them grow outside our body," and transform them into cells of any kind, said Alessio Fasano, the scientist leading the project and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research.


"If we reach that phase, if we are able to achieve that goal, then our next step is to eventually move to clinical application," Fasano told the AP before Friday's announcement.


Intestinal stem cells have certain features that make them appealing for this kind of research, Fasano said.


They are very active cells — the intestine replenishes all its cells every few days — and they are intrinsically flexible — already programmed to generate all the various kinds of cells such as mucus cells or epithelial cells present in the highly complex organ. Furthermore, harvesting them can be done through a routine medical procedure, Fasano noted.


Fasano said his team hopes to decide about the feasibility of the project within the next two to three years. He said the network of experts, expected to be around 40 people, would work at their respective facilities, sharing information and the workload to speed up the process.




AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng in London and AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.



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What's wrong with those?

Unless you're being snarky, the pro-life crowd are pretty close to being the biggest creeps in the country and many of them think it's perfectly alright to kill a living person for the perceived protection of fetus'. Telling people they can't use contraceptives is obnoxious enough in everyday life, but going to AIDS ravaged countries and telling them not to use them is disgusting.

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@Blix--given the Church's position on evolution, it probably isn't very revolutionary that it would support adult stem cell procedures.


@S&M--kill who? people like Tiller the baby killer? Far as I know, many pro-life people condemned that action, despite Tiller's being a real sick bastard. What's this "perceived protection of a fetus" that you're talking about anyway ("perceived" being the root of confusion about your claim ). That whole incident reminds me of Sam Kinnison's bit about relationship violence......."I'd hate to be on the jury, but I know what turns mr. hand into mr fist". In essence, don't know anyone that applauded the murder (in a church of all places......oh the irony), but doubt they felt much sorrow for Tiller in the end either.

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Unless you're being snarky, the pro-life crowd are pretty close to being the biggest creeps in the country and many of them think it's perfectly alright to kill a living person for the perceived protection of fetus'.


What? At least here in Portugal, the pro-life movement only exceptions for abortion are: risk of life for the mother, rape, or malformation of the fetus.


Telling people they can't use contraceptives is obnoxious enough in everyday life, but going to AIDS ravaged countries and telling them not to use them is disgusting.


They defend sexual abstinence.

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Abstinence only education does not work. Places that do not allow real sex ed have terrible rates of teen pregnancy.


Sort of off-topic but: I also think that it is ridiculous that condoms are locked up behind glass displays like cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Before this railroads into another discussion entirely about birth control...


Blix, this is primarily to try to answer you at post #3, more or less. Their belief is that a soul is created upon conception...if I'm not mistaken. However, that does not mean you can't take from fat cells or the umbilical cord. So long as what is being done (for purpose of developing tissues or medicine) is not ever possibly going to grow to become a full living being of its own accord, and not taken from such living being in a detrimental manner either. At least *I think* that is where the line is drawn with the Vatican.


IIRC similar to this was being done with the umbilical cord but the cost to keep these on ice and on file is prohibitive, though perhaps worth it considering we have children born prematurely or any other number of other disorders.


What? At least here in Portugal, the pro-life movement only exceptions for abortion are: risk of life for the mother, rape, or malformation of the fetus.


I can't speak for all pro lifers in america but many that I know are willing to make those 3 exceptions. At times when "risk to the life of the mother" becomes twisted around (usually by media and extremists) and these people don't buy into it b/c the new twist of the argument supports abortion for convenience sake, then pro lifers are suddenly demonized in yet another hyperbole along these lines.


If I am not mistaken, thousands of years ago actually, the Hebrew laws about conception of a population took this very thing you speak of into consideration. I think these 3 guidelines were actually highly encouraged...least that's the impression I get.


The conditions were:

A mother to be shall not be forced to have a child if:

1) Rape was the means of conception

2) It will seriously harm, if not kill, the carrying mother

3) The conception occurred from incest (thus, most likely means of malformation at the time)


Evidently it still lives on, even today.

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  • 3 months later...

Interesting thought there... smoking is a privilege, but sex is a right.


GTA:SWcity: Is that in the Babylonian Talmud? Some citations/quotations would be helpful. Without passing judgment, I thought the whole widespread "Jewish" acceptance of abortion was based upon the idea that a human being doesn't become a life protected by God (since you lack belief in a "soul" as in traditional Christianity) until the infant takes its first unaided breath (which would create complications for people on breathing machines, I suppose), which would argue for permissibility partial birth abortion (until that first breath) too I suppose. But see, that's just what people have told me, I've never been shown any concrete citations of sacred texts, properly translated, etc. to back up the argument. Then there's the fact that most Jews today are either secular (Judaism is "cultural" not religious) or reform (liberal), meaning the "laws" don't have a whole lot of force with them as individuals, period.




Frankly, apart from some superstitious thought that the child of rape has no soul or something, I am not sure why "rape" needs to be an exception (since an abortion itself is a traumatic event, at least going by what many women have said, so it's not as if it somehow is "therapeutic" upon a rape). Abortion isn't like having a tick removed.


Adoption is still an option if financial concerns are the primary problem. Herein I see many connections to the capital punishment debate, but that's another can of worms.


Anyway, another news article that I don't think has been posted yet:


Adult Stem Cell Research Far Ahead of Embryonic




Feel free to discuss...

Edited by Kurgan
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