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 CNS Story:

STEMCELL-SGRECCIA Nov-27-2007 (390 words) xxxi

Vatican official says stem-cell studies show science can be ethical

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Recent studies showing that human skin cells can be reprogrammed to function as stem cells demonstrate that scientific progress can be achieved without violating basic ethical norms, said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

"If this technique is validated, it would be a historic discovery," the bishop told Vatican Radio in late November.

Separate studies from teams in Japan and in the United States demonstrating success in creating stem cells without using and destroying human embryos were published online Nov. 20 by two scientific journals.

By adding four genes to human skin cells, the scientists were able to create stem cells that genetically match the donor and have the ability to become any of the 220 types of cells in the human body.

"The church conducted this battle for ethical reasons, encouraging researchers to move ahead with adult stem cells and declaring illicit the destruction of embryos," Bishop Sgreccia said.

The success of the approach, which the Japanese and U.S. researchers followed for scientific and not primarily for ethical reasons, demonstrates that progress does not have to violate ethical norms, he said.

"Ethics that respects the human being is useful also in research," Bishop Sgreccia said.

And, he said, the results demonstrate that "it is not true that the church is against research, only that it is against bad research, research which damages human beings, in this case the human embryo."

Bishop Sgreccia said it is a shame that so many human embryos have been destroyed and so many millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on embryonic stem-cell research when better results have been obtained without destroying embryos.

"It is true" that researchers do not know for sure what will work and what will not when they begin a project, the bishop said, "but there were already indications that results could be obtained using adult stem cells, while from embryonic stem cells there have been no results."

"I do not know if those who have invested money and passed laws precisely to allow this (embryonic stem-cell research) will be able to recognize their error and turn back, but at least the scientists who want to achieve results will go looking where they have been proven to be found," Bishop Sgreccia said.

END


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