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YEAREND-STEMCELLS Dec-10-2007 (710 words) With logo to come. xxxn

2007: Beginning of the end for the stem-cell wars?

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the years ahead, 2007 may come to be remembered as the beginning of the end for the debate over embryonic versus adult stem cells.

In November, separate studies from teams in Japan and the United States showed that human skin cells can be reprogrammed to work as effectively as embryonic stem cells, thus negating the need to destroy embryos in the name of science.

"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," said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in a Vatican Radio interview.

Embryos have long been touted by some scientists as the only source of stem cells capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells in the human body, but church leaders have said no possible scientific advance could justify the destruction of human embryos.

But that has not kept supporters of embryonic stem-cell research from seeking vast sums of money at the federal and state levels to continue their research.

Even before the results of the new studies were announced, voters in New Jersey rejected a ballot proposal that would have authorized $450 million in state bonds for stem-cell research projects over the next 10 years.

Catholic leaders in other states were gearing up to fight similar battles. In Michigan, for example, every registered Catholic home received a DVD and other information in October as part of a statewide educational program to explain the church's support for adult stem-cell research and its opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.

"It is the belief of the state's bishops that the secular news media has greatly distorted the issue of stem-cell research and, in doing so, improperly conveyed the church's position," said Dave Maluchnik, public policy associate at the Michigan Catholic Conference. "Therefore, the bishops decided it was imperative to bring the truth of the church's teaching on human life as it relates to stem-cell research directly to the faithful."

The New York State Catholic Conference criticized the Legislature and governor for deciding to spend $600 million on life sciences research aimed chiefly at human embryonic stem-cell research. In Iowa, Archbishop Jerome G. Hanus of Dubuque reacted with "deep sadness" after the Legislature there approved a measure to allow the cloning of human embryos for research.

Challenges also came at the federal level. In June President George W. Bush vetoed a bill to expand federal funding for medical research on human embryonic stem cells and issued an executive order calling on federal agencies to strengthen the nation's commitment to research on adult stem cells.

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the veto and executive order, saying that "adult stem cells continue to produce new clinical advances on a regular basis, most recently showing benefits for patients with juvenile diabetes."

Researchers working with umbilical-cord blood, placenta blood and amniotic fluid also were making progress in deriving stem cells from those byproducts of live birth.

"With 4 million live births every year in our country alone, an ample supply of these cells lies readily at hand," said Richard M. Doerflinger, deputy director of the bishops' pro-life secretariat.

In a study reported early in 2007 by the journal Nature, scientists at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., said they had used stem cells derived from amniotic fluid to create muscle, bone, fat, blood, nerve and liver cells in the laboratory.

Doerflinger also expressed the bishops' support for full funding to collect and store cord blood for the National Cord Blood Inventory, which would enable doctors to match patients with compatible donors through a centralized computer data bank.

At their November meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops authorized their Committee on Pro-Life Activities to prepare a brief policy statement explaining why the church opposes embryonic stem-cell research. The document will be voted on by the bishops in June.


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