The Church is expected to provide financial support to help establish the International Intestinal Stem Cell Consortium, which will kick off its research today in Rome.
No, the church hasn't done an ideological 180. In fact, this new research aims to do away with the need for the embryonic stem cell research that the Vatican has called "gravely immoral."
"We are trying to explore stem cell research aside from embryonic stem cells," says Dr. Alessio Fasano, lead researcher on the project and director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School Medicine. "Of the adult stem cells out there, intestinal cells are the most active that we know of."
Fasano says they pitched this research project to the Vatican in hopes that the church would want to support an alternative to embryonic research.
"Rather than say they don't want [stem cell research], it would be more logical to say 'Is there a better way?'," Fasano says, and he believes that using adult stem cells, harvested from the intestines of the patients themselves, could be that "better way."
Though the church's interest in funding research is a welcome addition, doctors say, some stem cell researchers worry that the Vatican's agenda in this project is to argue against the need for embryonic stem cell research.
"I applaud the Vatican for funding any type of research," says Dr. George Daley, director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Children's Hospital Boston, "but this is another attempt to pit adult stem cells against embryonic [ones]" when the two are used in very different ways and have potential for different conditions.