In May 2010 (yeah I know, I lag behind a little), New York based adult stem cell company Neostem announced a ground-breaking collaboration with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture. From the press release:
NeoStem’s Stem for Life Foundation, formed to create awareness about the promise of adult stem cells to treat disease, and the Pontifical Council’s Foundation, called STOQ International (Science Theology and the Ontological Quest), will work on a variety of collaborative activities with the goal of advancing scientific research on adult stem cells, exploring their clinical application in the field of regenerative medicine and the cultural relevance of such a fundamental shift in medical treatment options, particularly with regard to the impact on theological and ethical issues.
The Pontifical council has thrown it’s weight behind the initiative with a hefty $1 million donation to the Stem for Life Foundation. This is not, contrary to some rumors that have been spread around recently, a purchase of stock in the company for profit. The money will go toward funding educational programs that promote the use of adult stem cell therapies which, unlike embryonic stem cell therapies, have been used clinically for years in hundreds of patients to treat debilitating diseases.
As part of the collaboration, NeoStem and the Pontifical Council will pursue the development of educational programs, publications and academic courses with an interdisciplinary approach for theological and philosophical faculties, including those of bioethics, around the world.
As described in a recent LA Times article, Neostem has a strong interest in the moral and ethical implications of stem cell research; this, among other reasons, attracted the attention of the Pontifical Council:
The partnership is rare, perhaps unprecedented. “It is unusual, ” said Father Tomasz Trafny, the Vatican’s point man on the deal. “Never in history [have] we entered into such [a] collaboration.”
Trafny, a Polish-born priest who heads a science and theology unit within the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the church decided to collaborate with NeoStem for two reasons.
“First, they have a strong interest in … searching for the cultural impact of their own work, which is very unusual,” he said. “Many companies will look at the profit and only at the profit.
“And the second, of course, is that they share the same moral, ethical sensitivity…. Because of that ethical position, we entered into this unique collaboration.”
Perhaps the most exciting program to develop from the collaboration is a three day conference being held November 9-11, 2011 in the Vatican. The mission of the conference is “To foster the highest levels of scientific research on Adult Stem Cells and to explore the cultural, ethical and human implications of their use.” It is great to see the Church stepping up to the challenges of modern science and offering a voice of conscience and morality to help guide the discussion!
The conference is by invite only and yours truly has been given the honor of being one of those invited to attend. In just two short weeks, I’ll be flying to Rome to take part. I’ll be blogging throughout in an effort to bring the conference to as many as possible, so if you’re interested in getting updates, subscribe! I’m also doing some last minute fundraising in order to help pay for travel expenses involved with the conference, so if you’re feeling generous you can send me an email at jcreneau [at] gmail(dot)com.