Stritch student reports on his experience attending Vatican adult stem cell research conference

News Archive May 06, 2013

Stritch student reports on his experience attending Vatican adult stem cell research conference

Michael Hutz, a second-year student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, recently returned from a prestigious Vatican conference on adult stem cell research.

The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference, “Regenerative Medicine – A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture,” held April 11-13, explored the scientific, cultural, and ethical implications of adult stem cell research.

Following is his personal report on the experience.

I arrived in Rome around 10 a.m. April 10. Conference organizers had sent transportation to bring us to the hotel from the airport. I hadn’t slept more than 20 minutes on the plane ride from Chicago in an attempt to catch up on the week of classes I was missing for the trip.

I and fellow Student Ambassadors met that evening for orientation with our program organizers. The orientation gave me and the  other 23 ambassadors a great opportunity to get to know each other. Half of the ambassadors were from the United States and the other half from countries all over the world, including Haiti, Mexico, Bolivia, Australia, Italy, and Poland. Catherine Vaczy, our program director, opened the orientation by introducing the new society of “Students for the Cellular Age.” We were to be the first class inducted.

The next morning, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture and one of the leading papal candidates in the recent Vatican Conclave, opened the conference. He gave a beautiful and impassioned speech about how the Church can and should work more closely with ethical scientists and researchers to alleviate human suffering. Cardinal Ravasi quoted Albert Einstein in saying, “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”

The conference ran from dawn until dusk over three days.  Researchers and clinicians from all over the United States, along with CEOs from several stem cell biotech companies, updated us on recent breakthroughs in adult stem cell research. Some of the clinicians introduced patients who had been successfully treated with these new adult stem cell therapies, including a young lady with multiple sclerosis. This made for a very powerful and moving experience as we listened to the impact these therapies had on their lives.

One major theme of the conference that spoke to me in particular was this: There is hope for a transformation in medicine and in the treatment of patients with previously untreatable diseases using these new stem cell therapies.

Most of the treatments, however, are still in clinical trials and will likely not be available to the public for another 10 to15 years.

The conference focused on publicizing and spreading the word about adult stem cell breakthroughs more than on pure science and research, and was an incredibly rewarding experience.  I was proud and honored to represent Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Hutz is from Whitefish Bay, Wis. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago with degrees in biology and religious studies, with a minor in bioethics.

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