Bishops welcome promising new adult stem cell treatments

By staff writers
December 9, 2008

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has welcomed promising new adult stem cell treatments for patients suffering from heart disease and strokes.

Last week it was reported that researchers at the Imperial College London are developing a type of stem cell heart surgery which could give heart patients more treatment options, and the International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover, Germany pioneered a new stem cell treatment to help stroke patients regain movement and speech.

The researchers at Imperial College London are perfecting a technique to rebuild a heart severely damaged and scarred by disease or cardiac arrest.

They have discovered a way to extract, grow in the laboratory and then graft on a patient's own muscle-building cells which then can be used to patch up the heart and increase its pumping power.

Eventually it could end the need for transplants, revolutionise heart surgery and reduce the 238,000 lives lost every year to heart disease, the UK's biggest killer.

The world-leading research, which is being led by the American Professor Michael Schneider, was last week awarded The Medical Futures Innovation Award, otherwise known as a medical Oscar.

“These developments yet again demonstrate the wonderful power of medical science and the potential of adult stem cells in practical therapy,” said the Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff.

“There are increasing clinical uses for adult stem cells and their use raises none of the problems created by embryonic stem cells which require the destruction of human embryos.“

The news emerged as two groups of Christian campaigners lost their High Court challenge to scientists being allowed to create hybrid embryos for research purposes.

The Christian Legal Centre and Comment on Reproductive Ethics were refused permission to bring a test case application for judicial review.

They had wanted to overturn a decision of the research regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

But the judge ruled their challenge was unarguable. Ms Justice Dobbs, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that the application was "totally without merit".

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) and Comment on Reproductive Ethics had claimed the HFEA had operated unfairly in permitting the work.

But the HFEA said all decisions were made in a transparent way that followed correct procedures.

The challenge was against an HFEA ruling earlier this year to grant licences to scientists at Newcastle University and King's College London in January. A third team in Warwick has subsequently been granted a licence as well.

In March 2008 Scottish Catholic Cardinal Keith O'Brien caused outrgae by comparing the use of microscopic animal cells to 'Frankenstein" like research, a comment which provoked accusations of telling untruths from Lord Winston and senior scientists.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill came 18 years after previous legislation in the area, and after a two-year debate.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has 18 members encompassing a wide range of expertise - including Lord Richard Harries of Pentregarth, a theologian and former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, who backs hybrid research, the government's regulation of scientific research in this area, and the need for new critical thinking.

See also: Cardinal vices and virtues

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