By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican is strongly supporting a new international project for adult stem-cell research but is not directly involved and has made no financial contribution to the initiative, a Vatican spokesman said.
The project, led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, established a consortium of researchers from several Italian health institutes, including the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome.
The church opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos. It supports adult stem-cell research, which uses undifferentiated cells obtained from adult organs and tissues.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said news reports of a Vatican contribution of 2 million euros ($2.7 million) to the project were inaccurate. In an e-mail to Catholic News Service April 25, Father Lombardi said no funding commitment had been given by any Vatican institution.
“This aspect must be further studied,” he said.
“It is true, however, that institutions such as the Bambino Gesu Hospital are connected with the Holy See, and therefore its concrete participation in the research can be seen as a ‘Vatican’ contribution, but the precise extent of this participation has not yet been defined,” he said.
The initiative was announced at a meeting in Rome April 23, at which participants signed a letter of intent.
Among those present was Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, a retired Vatican official, who said the church was committed to “supporting this research in every possible direction.” He said it was an example of the proper use of scientific research as “an instrument of service to the human being, in order to preserve life and alleviate suffering.”
Participants at the Rome meeting said the project would focus on intestinal stem cells, a relatively new field of study. Intestinal stem cells are easy to harvest, replicate frequently and can be used to generate a variety of other more specialized cells, they said.
Dr. Alessio Fasano, professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology and director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told The Catholic Review, Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper, in a brief telephone interview April 23 that the consortium has been months in the making.
“We started discussing this a few months ago,” Fasano said. “It extended from discussions I had with Cardinal Martino. He liked the idea, and submitted it to the Holy Father (Pope Benedict XVI). The Holy Father loved it. This is unprecedented.”
Nancy Paltell, the Maryland Catholic Conference’s associate director for respect life, called the new project “yet another example of the Catholic Church stepping up to the plate to fill a need that the government either won’t fill or isn’t capable of filling.”
“The church has been a consistent supporter of stem-cell research using ethical adult stem cells,” she added.
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Contributing to this story was Paul McMullen in Baltimore.
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