Stem cell research | New lines opened and Vatican approval

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Many researchers are relying on adult or embryonic stem cells for their research. Image from Flickr.

When it comes to medical research, one almost cannot find something more controversial than stem cell research. Today, both distinct types of stem cell research – embryonic and adult – received support that will potentially expand and improve the cash now available and results of medical study. The National Institutes of Health released new embryonic guidelines, while the Vatican — yes, the Catholic Vatican — has announced it will help fund research.

The promise of stem cell research

Stem cell research is a politically, socially, and emotionally loaded topic – for good reason. Many medical researchers call stem cells the best chance medicine has to do everything from regrow damaged body parts to curing a multitude of diseases. A stem cell is a cell that is still in an “undefined” state and has the potential of becoming any type of cell in the body. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos created by fertility treatments that would not otherwise be used. Adult stem cells come from grown adults, and are either “forced” backwards into stem cells or harvested from other parts of the body.

Embryonic stem cell research guidelines from NIH

The question of embryonic stem cell research has been a difficult political question for the United States government. In 2001, President George W. Bush limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to the lines already in existence. This left 21 lines of embryonic stem cell research available. After taking office, President Obama lifted that restriction, although stronger ethical guidelines were put in place. The new stem cell research guidelines indicate that embryonic stem cells must be donated by couples that have been “fully informed of other options.”

NIH approves 13 lines of embryonic stem cell research

The new guidelines instituted by the National Institutes of Health created many questions about which lines of stem cell research would be allowed. This morning, the NIH announced that 13 additional lines had been approved for embryonic stem cell research, including four lines that account for almost 90 percent of stem cell research publications between 1999 and 2008.

Vatican to back adult stem cell research

In a move that surprised many stem cell research watchers, the Catholic Vatican announced today that they would be providing financial support for adult stem cell research. The International Intestinal Stem Cell Consortium will receive funding and support from the Vatican. Intestinal stem cells are a form of adult stem cells that many researchers are hoping will prove useful. In the Vatican announcement, the church highlights that they still believe embryonic stem cell research is “gravely immoral.” The Director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program in Boston’s Children’s Hospital reacted to the announcement with a mix of emotions. “I applaud the Vatican for funding any type of research, but this is another attempt to pit adult stem cells against embryonic when the two are used in very different ways and have potential for different conditions.”


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