Culture Council on Stem Cell Research

Regenerative Medicine Will Play a Role in the Way the Human Being Is Perceived

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is an address given today by Father Tomasz Trafny, director of the Science and Faith department of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The council announced collaboration with a U.S. company dedicated to research on adult stem cells, NeoStem.

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Some of you would probably ask: 1) why the Pontifical Council for Culture is involved in an initiative on adult stem cells research; 2) why, then, there is a collaboration with the bio-pharmaceutical company

NeoStem and 3) which are the projects linked to this collaboration.

The answer to the first question has to be found in the mission of our dicastery, that has been called to open a dialogue with all the expressions of modern and contemporary culture, so strongly pervaded and moulded by science. As known, the Pontifical Council for Culture has been engaged for long time in the promotion of a sound dialogue between natural sciences and humanities, above all between philosophy and theology, as demonstrated by the STOQ Project. The choice for such investigation is, therefore, the natural consequence of a route we entered on some years ago.

However, the interest we have in this particular investigation is quiet circumscribing: it aims to explore the cultural impact of research on adult stem cells and of regenerative medicine in the long and medium terms. All this, has its roots in a two-fold belief: the first one concerns the fact that, according to the expectations, in the next decades, regenerative medicine will play an important role not only in facing the problem of degenerative disease, but also in thinking to medical science, to its potential and, what is more interesting for us, to the way human being is considered and perceived in such a wide cultural context, continuously subject to strong changes. The second one was theorized by Edmund D. Pellegrino, physician and philosopher of medicine, who considered medicine as the most scientific of the humanities and the most humane of sciences[1]. For this reason, we share a field of dialogue with this specific science that will influence the future of culture. But, if on one hand, medicine is of all sciences the nearest to human beings (we indeed meet the doctor before being delivered, not to mention how many times we need to go to the doctor in our life), on the other, modern medicine interact with all the other cultural contexts: social, legislative, philosophical and theological, or economical ones (suffice it to think about the greater longevity that pose ourselves important questions concerning care, pensions and others). We are talking of a science having several and best available technology instruments and that questions ourselves with existential insights, requiring a deeper reflection and understanding.

The unique collaboration with NeoStem must focus on two considerations. The first one relies on the fact that we share the same sensitivity towards those ethical values that are centred on the protection of human life at all stages of its existence. The second, concerns interest of investigation on cultural consequences that scientific discoveries in the field of adult stem cells research and their application in regenerative medicine will cause. Today, it is not in any way obvious that a pharmaceutical company would have a strong sensitivity towards the protection of human life in its whole, having at the same time an interest towards cultural investigation. For this reason, we have thought to formalize a collaboration and we have been working since more that one year in order to define potential paths of development. It is clear that our collaboration is open to other institutions sharing the same values.

The first significant step of this collaboration will be the International Conference on Adult Stem Cells: Science and the future of man and culture, which sees the collaboration and support of two other departments of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council for Health Care (for the Pastoral care of Health) and the Pontifical Academy for life. To the Presidents of these two dicasteries His Excellency Most Rev. Bishop Zimowski, His Excellency Most Rev. Archbishop Carrasco de Paula, and their representatives Monsignors Musivi Mpendawatu and Suaudeau we express our gratitude for their willingness, enthusiasm and competence with which they wanted to support this initiative.

The conference itself will have a popular but high profile character. This means that it will be adressed to those who do not have a real scientific background on life sciences or medicine. We would like to introduce participants to the state of the art on adult stem cells research, its clinical applications and, in some cases, clinical applications that have already brought considerable benefits to patients and explain and discuss some problems and challenges arising in the wide consideration of interactions between scientific research and culture, and that can have a significant impact human beings’ future. For this reason, we especially invite bishops and ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to participate in this conference, but also the health ministers of the countries that would like to participate in this initiative, opinion leaders, media, etc… We also hope that some of our supporters who share the same sensitivity towards ethical values and a desire to promote dialogue between science and faith will be present.

Finally, with regards to the future possible projects, we want to help students of the Pontifical Universities and the Pontifical Catholic Educational Institutes to investigate the issues linked to the relationships between natural sciences and humanities, in a possible framework for interdisciplinary research. We also wish to reach a wide audience, especially the faithful and their pastors, but also pastoral workers at various levels, who sometimes find difficult to understand some complex problems posed both by science, and by philosophy and theology, and which need a clear and understandable explication, also for those who do not have the appropriate scientific background, but who wish to have not only a right information on these issues, but also the possibility for attending e-learning courses or short courses to be offered in the diocesan pastoral center.

I would like to conclude with a quote from the famous letter that Pope John Paul II addressed to Father Gorge Coyne, where he underlined the importance of the dialogue between science and faith, and between the several fields of knowledge.

As dialogue and common searching continue, there will be grow towards mutual understanding and a gradual uncovering of common concerns which will provide the basis for further research and discussion. Exactly what form that will take must be left to the future. What is important, (…) is that the dialogue should continue and grow in depth and scope. In the process we must overcome every regressive tendency to a unilateral reductionism, to fear, and to self-imposed isolation. What is critically important is that each discipline should continue to enrich, nourish and challenge the other to be more fully what it can be and to contribute to our vision of who we are and who we are becoming.

We do believe in a dialogue carried on in this way, and we are open to all the possible paths of collaboration with several institutions, single researchers and philanthropists who want to share these initiatives, that we hope would have a global impact for the promotion of a culture of future, centered on deep values.

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[1] Cfr. Humanism and the Physician, University of Tennesse Press, Knoxville 1979, 117-129.