News / Europe

Vatican to Fund Adult Stem Cell Research

Sabina Castelfranco

New research into the potential use of adult stem cells in the treatment of intestinal disease has been announced in Rome. The announcement was made following a meeting of an international task force at Italy's national health institute. The Vatican says it will provide funding for the research.

International researchers and doctors involved in the Vatican-financed project announced Friday that they want to assess the potential of intestinal stem cells - a relatively new field - for therapeutic use. They held a working meeting at Italy's national health institute in Rome.

Professor Curt Civin, is the dean and director of the stem cell center at the University of Maryland. He took part in Friday's meeting. He says the research is at a very preliminary phase but important nonetheless.

"This was the launch and the announcement of an international research collaboration on intestinal stem cells," said Civin. "Now, it's very exciting because it's sponsored by the Vatican."

Cardinal Renato Martino, who was also at the meeting, said the Vatican fully supports the project because it does not involve embryonic stem cells. The Vatican has already agreed to donate $2.7 million to the research.

Doctor Ruggero De Maria of Italy's National Health Institute says this type of research has not been done before.

"Since these cells can be taken by endoscopy and they are so potent, it would be worth it to try to develop technologies to expand these cells and to see whether they can be used," he said.

Professor Civin adds that it will be some time before clinical treatment will be available but the stem cells have great potential.

"These are stem cells that are constantly rejuvenating throughout our lives even as adults and these cells generally generate kilograms of replacement cells in our intestine, every time we swallow a bite of food," he said.

The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos but supports the use of adult stem cells found in the bodies of all humans. Scientists have said that adult cells are less versatile than embryonic ones and they have had more trouble growing adult stem cells in the laboratory.

Alessio Fasano, the scientist leading the adult stem cell project at the University of Maryland, says his team will know more about the feasibility of the project after about two to three years of research.

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