It may seem like an unusual partnership -- the Vatican and a U.S. biotech company -- but they've teamed up to shift focus from embryonic stem cell research in the industry to promoting use of adult stem cells for treating disease.
The Vatican's culture office and NeoStem Inc., are hosting a three-day conference starting Wednesday on adult stem cells, drawing scientists, patients, biotech CEOs and cardinals together. This partnership is the first time the Vatican has partnered with a publicly traded company to advance scientific research.
The church teaching holds that life begins at conception, and as a result, the Vatican opposes embryonic stem cell research because embryos are destroyed in the process.
According to NeoStem's website, the company goal is to advance adult stem cell and cord blood research, which, compared to embryonic research, has been a slower growing field. The company believes this is because of lack of "education and understanding of the benefits of adult stem cell therapy." And for this reason, they have partnered with the Vatican:
We believe that the Vatican’s choice to partner with NeoStem in its first commercial collaboration to advance adult stem cell research and therapy development demonstrates its acceptance and support of adult stem cells and will significantly contribute to accelerating stem cell-based regenerative medicine therapies and that their support will add significant value to our shareholders.
In a news release earlier this year, NeoStem and the Pontifical Council's Foundation -- called STOQ International (Science Theology and the Ontological Quest) -- announced the November meeting. The conference will include adult stem cell research experts another leaders in the field "but, unlike a research-focused conference, attendees will include Church and scientific leaders, policymakers, ethicists, educators, Ministers of Health from around the world, ambassadors to the Holy See, and representatives of the stem cell therapeutic business community."
"The unique collaboration with NeoStem must focus on two considerations," Rev. Tomasz Trafny said in the release. "The
first one is related to the sharing of the same sensitivity for ethical values that has at its center the protection of human life at all stages of its existence. The second concerns investigation on cultural consequences that will be caused by scientific discoveries in the field of adult stem cell research and adult stem cell applications in regenerative medicine. For these reasons, we've entered into a long term formal agreement with NeoStem and are working together tracing paths of further developments, activities and additional collaborations."
In 2010, according to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, the Vatican endorsed NeoStem with $1 million in funding for research of adult stem cell therapy.
Adult stem cell transplants have become a standard lifesaving therapy for people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases. Embryonic cells may be used someday to grow replacement tissue for diseases like Parkinson's.
Watch NeoStem's video on its partnership with the Vatican:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.