The Vatican is throwing its support behind an international project for adult stem-cell research but is not directly involved and has made no financial contribution to the initiative.

The project, led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, comprises a consortium of researchers from several Italian health institutes, including the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome.

Embryonic stem cells are valuable for their pluripotence, which is believed to be the key to discovering treatments for degenerative diseases. However, the Church opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos.

The Church supports adult stem-cell research, which uses undifferentiated cells obtained from adult organs and tissues. Although the Church has been criticized for maintaining this position, the Vatican is resolute that there are alternative research avenues, such as working with adult stem cells, that should be pursued.

The current research project will investigate the use of intestinal adult stem cells for treating disease. Intestinal stem cells are highly active, adaptable cells, which are pre-programmed to generate all cells necessary for intestinal functioning, such mucus cells or epithelial cells. In addition, these cells are relatively easy to harvest from the donor through a routine procedure such as endoscopy.

Patients with celiac’s will be first to be studied.

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