Category: Biotechnology

Upcoming Vatican Stem Cell Conference

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica (Public domain)


The Vatican Information Service reports:

“Vatican City, 5 April 2013 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference, “Regenerative Medicine: A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture”, which will place in the new Synod Hall of the Paul VI building in the Vatican from 11–13 April. Participating in the press conference were: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Dr. Robin Smith, president of The Stem for Life Foundation and CEO of NeoStem; and Msgr. Tomasz Trafny, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Science and Faith foundation.


[Msgr. Trafny explained,] “We want “to have a cultural influence on society, pointing to research models of excellence that are, nevertheless, in tune with the highest moral values of protecting the life and dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. However, we are aware that you cannot permanently influence society and culture without the constant and far-sighted support that comes from religious, social, and political leaders, from the community of entrepreneurs and from benefactors who are ready to commit to developing long-term scientific, bioethical, and cultural research.”

Read the story here.

More information is also available from Zenit.

Rebecca Taylor on Transhumanism

Rebecca Taylor writes at National Catholic Register:

Transhumanism: Taking the Place of Our Creator

So why should Catholics care about transhumanism? What is so wrong with becoming a “post-human” anyway? Catholics need to care because transhumanism is an insidious philosophy that rejects the nature of humanity and our natural limitations. By rejecting the nature of man, transhumanism also rejects the inherent dignity of every human being in the process.

Read here.

Vatican Stem Cell Conference Announced

The Pontifical Council for Culture, together with NeoStem, the Stem for Life Foundation, and STOQ International have announced next year’s Vatican-hosted conference on adult stem cell research. From the press release:

NEW YORK, Nov. 1, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Stem for Life Foundation, NeoStem, Inc. (NYSE MKT:NBS), The Pontifical Council for Culture, and STOQ International today announced that they will host The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference: Regenerative Medicine — A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture, from within The Vatican, April 11-13, 2013.

This event is part of a five-year collaboration between The Stem for Life Foundation, a not-for-profit organization devoted to raising global awareness of the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells, NeoStem, an emerging leader in the fast growing cell therapy industry, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and its foundation, called STOQ International (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).

With renowned journalists serving as moderators — Meredith Vieira from NBC News, Bill Hemmer from The Fox News Channel, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal and Dr. Max Gomez from WCBS-TV — The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference will feature leading adult stem cell scientists and clinicians, thought leaders of faith, ethics and culture, business leaders as well as Ministers of Health, Ambassadors to The Holy See and regulatory officials from around the world. During the event, adult stem cell scientists and clinicians will present an array of medical advancements and ongoing research occurring throughout the world, including the ability to grow replacements for damaged and diseased organs; restoring heart function after a heart attack; growing new skin for burn victims; rebalancing our own immune systems, pushing back a rising tide of chronic disease; advancements in cancer therapy; preventing organ rejection and addressing a range of other conditions and trauma, such as MS, traumatic brain injuries and cardiovascular disease via adult stem cell therapies. Throughout the event, patients will share their own stories of the unique, powerful treatments that have helped address their disease and reduce suffering.

Read here.

The website for the conference is online here.

Human Embryos Created with Three “Genetic Parents”

Biologists in Oregon are announcing the creation of human embryos with three “genetic parents.” Here’s the basic idea: human cells contain genetic material in the cell’s nucleus, which is a combination of the mother’s and the father’s DNA. Cells also contain structures called mitochondria, which, among other things, help the cell produce energy in usable forms. The important point is that the mitochondria contain their own genetic material, apart from that in the nucleus, and are derived exclusively from the mother. When an egg cell is fertilized, its nucleus now contains genetic material from both parents. The mitochondria, however, are already present in the egg cell from the start, and all subsequent mitochondria in the body are derived from these maternal, egg-cell mitochondria.

Some diseases are associated with damaged mitochondria, so the biologists in Oregon have developed a procedure by which the nucleus is removed from an egg cell from a woman with a mitochondrial disease,and then placed into a second egg cell, taken from another woman with healthy mitochondria, from which the nucleus has been previously removed. This produces a new composite egg cell with a nucleus containing the genetic material of one woman, and mitochondria (plus all the other cellular components) from a second woman. When this egg cell is then fertilized in vitro, it contains genes from three sources: the nuclear genes from the first woman and the father, and the mitochondrial genes plus maternal cellular components from the second woman. The idea is that women who would otherwise pass on mitochondrial diseases to offspring will now have a way to “produce” offspring with their own nuclear DNA, but without the defective mitochondrial genes.

For the Nature story on this development, see here. For Rebecca Taylor’s (Mary Meets Dolly) commentary, see here.

Three years ago, when this same team of biologists announced their first trial of this technique in rhesus monkeys (rather than in humans, as in the current announcement), bioethicist Fr. Tad Pacholczyk offered some commentary on the ethical issues surrounding this technique:

“To put it simply, our children have the right to be procreated, not produced. They have the right to come into the world in the personal, love-giving marital embrace of their parents, not in the cold and impersonal glass world of a test tube or petri dish. They have the right to be uniquely, exclusively and directly related to the mother and father who bring them into the world. IVF ignores all these rights of the child.

The second objection to mitochondrial swapping in humans is that it would introduce a rupture into parenthood by creating children who inherit genetic material from three parents. While the mother and father would contribute the majority of their child’s DNA from their own egg and sperm, a small amount would come from a second woman donating healthy mitochondria from one of her eggs. In other words, the procedure dilutes parenthood by introducing another parent, another woman, into the procreation of the child.

In the mitochondrial swapping scheme, it is significant that not just the mitochondria are “swapped” but actually all the other structures of the cell come from the second woman’s egg as well (except for the nucleus and its chromosomes). In other words, one woman provides the DNA from her own chromosomes, while another woman provides everything else: all the other subcellular machinery of the egg, including the mitochondria. In summary, then, we are not actually “repairing” a defective egg, but constructing a new, alternative and clearly different egg out of the contributions from two separate women. The final egg produced really belongs to neither woman, so that the technological manipulations introduce a fissure between any child conceived from the engineered egg and both “mothers.” The child becomes “distanced” or “orphaned” from both women involved in the process.”

(Arlington Catholic Herald)

Fr. Pacholczyk’s second objection is, I think, especially easy to overlook in our modern biological mindset of “genetic reductionism”. (I think that some pro-lifers even make this error when they insist on the “uniqueness of the DNA” as determinative of the humanity of the unborn—that DNA is, I think, diagnostic, but not determinative.) The child that is produced from this technique, while of course no less human and dignified than any other, is really the product of the biological contributions of three parents. The hubris of deliberately subjecting a child to this confused situation in order to fulfill our desire for complete control over nature is at the heart of the moral objection to these scenarios, however well-intentioned they may be.

Rebecca Taylor on GM Babies

Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly discusses the recent sensationalized report, featured in the British paper Daily Mail, about the birth of the “world’s first genetically modified babies”:

“Many people are talking about Michael Hanlon’s piece in the Daily Mail about the first genetically modified babies being born.  I want to discuss it because everything is not exactly how it seems.”

Read here.

Pepsi Rejects Aborted-Tissue Research

Catholic News Agency reports:

“Dallas, Texas, May 1, 2012 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Soft drink maker PepsiCo has said that it does not conduct or fund research that uses human embryonic or fetal tissue, causing a pro-life group to end its boycott of the company.

“We can assure you that PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research – including research performed by third parties – that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses,” said Paul Boykas, PepsiCo’s Vice President for Global Public Policy.

Boykas made his remarks in an April 26 letter to Debi Vinnedge, executive director of the group Children of God for Life, who had been protesting PepsiCo’s ties with a company that uses an aborted fetal cell line in creating product sweeteners.

In response to the letter, Vinnedge said her organization is “absolutely thrilled” with the company’s decision. She encouraged opponents of the research to thank PepsiCo and resume buying the company’s products.”

Read here.

Roe v. Wade and Biotechnology

“Thirty-nine years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that the laws outlawing abortion in Texas were unconstitutional because a woman had a right to privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution.  Suddenly, the unborn had no legal protection in the United States.  But Roe v. Wade did not just deny legal protection to the unborn, it catapulted the United States toward all manner of unethical biotechnology.”

Read at Mary Meets Dolly.

New Blog Critiquing Transhumanism

I’ve had a few posts up lately about transhumanism, the movement that seeks to improve humanity by merging man with technology. The New Atlantis is now hosting a new blog, Futurisms, with the mission to “critique the project to reengineer humanity.” With so many pro-transhumanist blogs out there on the internet (naturally), it’s good to see a site dedicated to critique of transhumanism specifically. You can read Futurisms here.

Chilling Quote of the Day

From a New York Times piece on abortion and reproductive technologies:

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

There’s no need to invoke slippery-slope arguments. Although our consciences, natural law, and the Church tell us that to do so is wrong, we already treat life like a commodity — both in wantonly destroying it (abortion) and in artificially forcing it to come into being (IVF, inter alia.) In both cases we reduce it to a product to be tailored to meet our own demands and desires, instead of respecting it as the most fundamental and humbling of gifts.


Court Rules Against Adult Stem Cell Funding

From Reuters:

“A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday stopping federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, in a slap to the Obama administration’s new guidelines on the sensitive issue.

The court ruled in favor of a suit filed in June by researchers who said human embryonic stem cell research involved the destruction of human embryos.”

Mary Meets Dolly has more.