Vatican launches stem cell venture with US company

DrSmith CNA Vatican Catholic News 6 16 11 Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem, announces the joint venture at the Vatican on June 16, 2011

The Vatican has signed its first ever commercial agreement with an outside company. The contract with U.S.-based bio-pharmaceutical firm NeoStem will advance ethical research into stem cells.

“We would like to create a hotspot for scientists, benefactors, academics (and) Church leaders that will now join this group and would work together for the benefit of humanity,”Fr. Tomaz Trafny of the Vatican’s Council for Culture told CNA June 16.

The deal was announced before the global media in Rome this morning.

“We are a public company pioneering new medical research with adult stem cells,” explained Doctor Robin Smith, the CEO of NeoStem.

“This research has the potential to alleviate human suffering by unlocking the healing power of the human body. Most importantly, we are able to do all this without destroying another human life,” she said.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells. From them all of the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. Their incredible versatility means they have the potential to provide replacement tissue to treat all manner of disorders.

“Thanks to some amazing technological advances, we are learning that part of the solution to these diseases and many others, may already be present in our bodies,” said Dr. Smith.

“Each human being has his or her own cellular fingerprint. Each one of us has cells with regenerative powers. These are our stem cells.”

The Catholic Church approves of stem cell research but disapproves of those cells being drawn from human embryos—a process that involves their destruction. The Church does approve of stem cells taken from adults or from the placenta or umbilical cord at birth.

“No embryos are destroyed to collect adult stem cells,” explained Dr. Smith.

“In other words, we do not have to destroy human life to improve and extend human life for those who are struggling with debilitating diseases.”

NeoStem has pioneered adult stem cell research throughout their five years of existence. The company says that its advances are proving both ethical and very successful.

“There are no current therapies using embryonic stem cells today but there are over 70 treatments available using adult stem cells including anemia, leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma,” Dr. Smith told CNA in a later interview.

The relationship between the Vatican and NeoStem will involve three areas of cooperation.

The first venue for the venture will entail work on research, including issues of funding. The second avenue of cooperation will involve the study of the cultural consequences of regenerative medicine, beginning with a major conference in Rome later this year. And the final area of collaboration will involve educating people – particularly those within the Church – about the practicalities and ethics of this new field of medical research.

“It is clear that our collaboration is open to other institutions sharing the same values,” said Fr. Trafny.

“We are open to all the possible paths of collaboration with several institutions, single researchers and philanthropists who want to share these initiatives that we hope would have a global impact.”

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The planned conference, entitled “Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture” will take place in November 2011 at the Vatican.

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