Vatican cancels high-level stem cell conference

It is no secret that the Vatican and most researchers on human embryonic stem cells do not see eye to eye on much more than the time of day. So the real question is why the Third International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research, scheduled for 25–28 April, was organised at all, rather than why it was abruptly cancelled this week.

Its website cited “serious economic and logistic-organizational reasons”. But an unnamed source in the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, told the Catholic News Agency that “the presence on its program of so many speakers, including the keynote speaker, committed to embryonic stem cell research, was a betrayal of the mission of the Academy and a public scandal.”

The keynote speaker was George Q. Daley, of Harvard University, an ardent supporter of research on human embryos. Another was Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a pioneer in IVF.

The organisers of the conference had asked Daley to focus on relatively uncontroversial aspects of adult stem cell research, but he told Nature that he had planned to mention them to give some historical context. Dr Trounson spoke darkly of having been muzzled. “I think the only interpretation is that we are being censored,” he said. “It is very disappointing that they are unwilling to hear the truth,”

The Vatican’s previous two conferences were relatively uncontroversial and to demonstrate its support of ethical science, last year it invested US$1 million in a private adult stem cell company, Neo-Stem. ~ Nature News, March 26

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