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Stem cell breakthrough

WASHINGTON (CNS): Scientists, ethicists and Church leaders hailed as a breakthrough two studies showing that human skin cells can be re-programmed to work as effectively as embryonic stem cells, thus negating the need to destroy embryos in the name of science.

Separate studies from teams led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and Junying Yu and James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison were published online on November 20 by the journals Cell and Science, respectively.

“The methods outlined in these papers fully conform to what we have hoped to see for some time,” a statement from the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in Philadelphia said.

“Such strategies should continue to be pursued and strongly promoted, as they should help to steer the entire field of stem-cell research in a more explicitly ethical direction by circumventing the moral quagmire associated with destroying human embryos,” it said.

Chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia welcomed the news, expressing gratitude “for scientists who took up the challenge of finding morally acceptable ways to pursue stem-cell research, and for government leaders who have encouraged and funded such avenues”.

The new technology “avoids the many ethical land mines associated with embryonic stem-cell research: It does not clone or destroy human embryos, does not harm or exploit women for their eggs, and does not blur the line between human beings and other species through desperate efforts to make human embryos using animal eggs”, he said.

The findings drew similar reaction from Catholic and pro-life leaders around the world.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide said: “While it is still early days for this research, it is a very promising discovery which will help scientists to fight serious diseases without resorting to the deliberate destruction of human embryos to obtain stem cells.”

He expressed regret that the Australian Parliament had acted to permit embryonic stem-cell research when more effective and more ethical means were just around the corner.

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