Scientists have potentially found a rich source of stem cells valuable for therapy that could very well end the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells. Vatican officials, as well as pro-life groups, are saying initial reviews of the procedure seem to be ethically sound and scientifically as beneficial as embryonic stem cells.
Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported in the scientific journal “Nature Biotechnology” that the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid, donated by pregnant women, hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.
They reported they were able to extract the stem cells without harm to the mother or fetus and grow the cells into different tissue cell types, such as brain, liver and bone, but they still do not know exactly how many different cell types can be made.
One of the more promising aspects of the research is that some of the DNA of the amnio-stem cells contained Y chromosomes, which means the cells came from the babies rather than the pregnant moms.
Dr. Anthony Atala heads Wake Forest's regenerative medicine institute in Winston-Salem, N.C., and serves as the senior researcher on the project. It took his team seven years to determine that the cells could be used for therapy, reported The Associated Press. Preliminary tests in patients are expected to be years away.
However, the finding raises the possibility that someday expectant parents can freeze amniotic stem cells for future tissue replacement in a sick child without fear of the child’s immune system rejecting them.
In April, Atala’s team rebuilt bladders for seven young patients using live tissue grown in the lab.
On Tuesday, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, said that in his opinion the research holds a great deal of promise. Barragan told Vatican Radio that the amniotic stem cells “may not have problems from the ethical point of view,” because their removal does not damage the life of the donor. The Cardinal also pointed out the cells potential compatibility with their donors. Based on initial reports, Barragan concluded, “I am very glad to see this progress in the field of science for the good of humankind.”
The Vatican has continuously supported the use of adult stem cell research while condemning embryonic research which results in the destruction of human life at its earliest stages.
Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau, M.D. and official of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life also told Vatican Radio on Monday that the new process is promising because, like embryonic stem cells, the amniotic stem cells appear to thrive in lab dishes for years. Suaudeau said the flexibility of amniotic stem cells remains to be fully tested, but agreed that there seem to be no ethical barriers crossed in their removal.
In the United States Pro-life organizations say the recent news about the potential for amniotic stem cells should give members of Congress pause as they consider whether to approve legislation that will fund embryonic stem cell research, reported LifeNews.com.
“This new science has been able to isolate every type of stem cell needed for therapy and healing medicine without the moral concern for loss of innocent life," Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said.
“Based upon this stunning new revelation, we strongly recommend that Speaker Nancy Pelosi refrain from moving forward in her plans to fund the highly controversial embryonic stem cell research," added Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition.
Mahoney and Newman are drafting a letter to Pelosi along with the pro-life National Clergy Council, and Generation Life, an organization for pro-life youth, urging her to hold a vote on the bill (H.R. 3).
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, is urging pro-lifers to call their members of Congress and encourage them to oppose H.R. 3.