NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — At a recent conference on stem cells endorsed by and held at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI announced the Catholic Church’s support for adult stem cell research.

“It opens up possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses,” the Pontiff said.

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There is however one very important qualification to the Church’s endorsement: research with or on embryonic stem cells is still strictly forbidden.

Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council on Culture, explained to CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez that because the use of embryonic cells destroys an embryo and, in the Church’s view, a human life, that research is still against Church doctrine.

Adult stem cells, gleaned from most tissues in the body, are very different. They do not destroy embryos and so the Catholic Church endorses this type of medical and scientific research.

At the three-day international conference Gomez moderated, scientists, bio-ethicists and Catholic theologians presented the latest research using adult stem cells and discussed their moral and ethical implications.

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“Just to get a better understanding of different perspectives on this issue of how to move the field of stem cell research forward,” said Dr. Wayne Marasco of Harvard Medical School.

Gomez also heard how stem cells are being used in clinical trials to make replacement tissues and organs, generate long term remissions in lupus, leukemia, arthritis and even multiple sclerosis. Failing hearts have been helped with stem cells too.

“People have a feeling they have to chose between science and faith. So it was the opportunity for them to understand that actually the Catholic church supports adult stem cell therapies and research and that they don’t have to make this choice,” said Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem.

There are currently more than 3,500 ongoing clinical trials to test the use of various types of these adult stem cells in everything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes. So while embryonic stem cell research will continue, this Church action clearly gives a boost to work that many people are ethically more comfortable with.

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