Catholic commentators welcome stem cell breakthrough

Italian researcher Paolo De Coppi's groundbreaking research paper on amniotic stem cells was rejected by four scientific journals over seven years before its publication this week in Nature Biotechnology but Catholic commentators have welcomed the discovery as making available a new source of ethically acceptable stem cells.

Advances in stem-cell research could be faster with amniotic fluid than with embryos, De Coppi, 35, who is on sabbatical from Padua University, told Italian agency ANSA Monday.

"We believe that, from a therapeutic standpoint, by using stem cells from amniotic fluid, we may reach applications faster than with embryonic stem cells," Paolo De Coppi told the agency.

De Coppi said he and co-author Anthony Atala of the US did not want to hinder stem-cell research using embryos - a technique that is favoured by much of the scientific community but opposed by conservatives in several countries including Italy.

While stressing that he himself opposes research with embryos, De Coppi said he and Atala "certainly do not wish to hinder other types of research".

However, he disclosed that he had the impression since 2001, when he first started presenting his work at conferences, that the scientific establishment, which has invested heavily in embryo research, was resistant to the prospect of amniotic stem cells proving useful.

"It took seven years to get our paper published ... it was rejected four times.

"We had the impression that many of the criticisms raised (in rejecting the paper) were motivated by a resistance to the idea of finding an alternative to embryonic stem cells because the American scientific community fears restrictions on research with embryos.

"We could have had the discovery published sooner by opting to send our results to a less prestigious journal," De Coppi said.

"But that way we would have lost credibility with the scientific community.

"Therefore, we decided to overcome the hostility".

The publication of the paper in Britain's leading stem-cell journal has electrified the research community.

In the paper, De Coppi and Atala present evidence of amniotic cells diversifying into various kinds of bodily tissue - a result previously only thought possible by using embryos.

Although such cells had been found before, De Coppi's study suggests they can be isolated from the fluid more easily than previously thought and coaxed into developing into muscle, bone, liver, brain and other major cell types in the search for new treatments for diabetes, paralysis and many other maladies, the San Francisco Chronicle adds.

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities welcomed the report

Sunday's report "is one in a line of studies showing very versatile stem cells can be obtained from a number of different products after live birth - amniotic membrane, amniotic fluid, cord blood, placenta, even umbilical cord tissue," he said.

"There is no reason why the amniotic fluid couldn't be obtained, raising no moral problem whatever. So, we welcome this further advance in expanding the known sources of potentially useful stem cells."

Amniotic stem cells could be faster (ANSA, 8/1/07)
Amniotic stem cell find could overcome barriers to using embryos (Sydney Morning Herald, 9/1/07)
Amniotic fluid a promising stem cell source, Political resistance to using human embryos drives research (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/1//07)
New Source of Stem Cells: Amniotic Fluid (Scientific American, 7/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
University of Padua

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9 Jan 2007

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