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Adult stem cells offer promise


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Spinal cord injuries. Lung cancer. Heart disease. Kidney disease. Diabetes. Stem cells have shown promise in treating all of these conditions—and not a single embryo had to die. The stem cells in question are “adult” stem cells, which can come from a variety of sources: bone marrow, umbilical cords, placentas, even fat removed during liposuction. And they are being used now to treat patients, said Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

So far, no treatments developed from human embryonic stem cells are in use. The church teaches that research on stem cells from human embryos is always wrong, because the only way to procure the cells is to kill the embryo.

But media reports often focus on the potential of embryonic stem cells, Pacholczyk said, and many people are unaware of the work going on with adult stem cells.

Catholics seem to be about as informed as the general public on stem cell issues, he said, and major misconceptions abound.

People also seem to misunderstand the nature of a human embryo as a immature human being. To counter that, Pacholczyk said, he uses the example of the federal law protecting the American bald eagle that was enacted in 1940. That law made it just as much a crime to harm a bald eagle egg as to hurt an adult bald eagle. “This makes perfect sense,” Pacholczyk said. “What is inside that egg is an eagle embryo. But people seem to be somehow disconnected form the embryos we all once were.”

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