The Vatican have entered an unusual partnership with a relatively small U.S. biotech company (NeoStem) to promote using adult stem cells for treating diseases, instead of focusing on embryonic stem cell research.

The Vatican are perhaps the loudest advocates of not using embryonic stem cells; the Christian teaching holds that the life begins at conception, and as a result, in their view, the loss of embryonic cells equals death.

The partnership will be marked by a conference which will be held in New York, bringing together researchers and cardinals; this initiative is part of the Vatican’s recent $1 million, five-year initiative to promote adult stem cell therapies and research and shift people’s attention from embryonic research. From their point of view, this is a lofty goal, but I’m not sure $1 million in five years will get you very far when dealing with this kind of objective.

Transplant of adult stem cells are already common in treating people with serious illnesses, but many believe that the more flexible and useful embryonic cells are the true key that should be used. Lots of work has and will be put in both camps, but it’s obvious that things are moving in the right direction, and without the usual bureaucracy and obtuse thinking, we would already be a few steps ahead of where we are now.

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