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Vatican pledges nearly $3 million to adult stem-cell research initiative

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It seems even the Catholic Church has acknowledged the medical potential of stem-cell research to yield new therapies.

Although the church has spoken against embryonic stem-cell research, the Vatican announced plans today to fund new research on the potential use of adult stem cells in the treatment of intestinal and possibly other diseases. NPR Shots reports:

The project-a collaboration between the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Italian equivalent of the National Institutes of Health-will attempt to coax intestinal stem cells (found in everyone's gut) to turn into multi-potent stem cells. These are cells that, like embryonic stem cells, have the potential to develop into any kind of cell in the body. It's already been done using adult skin cells, though using them to treat major diseases is likely a ways off...

...Why intestinal stem cells? Well, unlike skin cells, says [University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher Alessio Fasano], "intestinal cells already make different kinds of cells. They make epithelial cells-cells that make mucous, endocrine cells that make hormones ... so they already have the capability to make many different kinds of cells. What we'd like to do is to expand their multi-potency to become any human cell. That's the goal."

A number of research teams are exploring the possibility of reprogramming adult cells for use in regenerative medicine. In a study at Stanford, scientists discovered fat cells removed during liposuction contain versatile cells that can be coaxed to become induced pluripotent stem cells.

Photo by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov

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