On Tuesday of this week I was delighted to introduce Dr Nico Forraz as he gave the first of the talks for our cluster of parishes, on his cutting edge work at the Newcastle Centre for Life with non-embryonic stem cells. A bigger audience than I had feared turned up to listen and engage in a question and answer session which also involved Professor Colin McGuckin who works with Nico.
We learnt that non-embryonic stem cells are collected from blood the umbilical cord at the birth of a child. As such, unlike embryonic stem cells, they are readily available and have none of the ethical drawbacks. However the government has decided to finance research with embryonic stem cells so that 95% of funding for research in the UK is for that kind of work while research with cord blood stem cells only attracts 5% of available funding. Apparently there was a similar situation in South Korea until recently and now that the advantages of cord blood stem cells are better known, funding there is equal for both kinds of research.
Nico spoke of how the work he does is directed towards three areas that of the liver, the brain and blood. Professor McGuckin spoke of his meetings with Pope Benedict and how the Holy Father had given them great encouragement to make progress in their research. Often the Church is presented as having a negative attitude to the modern world so it is good to be able to show that this is not always the case where things can be done according to sound ethical principles.
It was a great opportunity to be able to hear firsthand about this ground-breaking work. We were very grateful for Nico and Colin giving up their time to talk to us (and for bringing six bottles of wine for everyone to share!)