The Vatican will fund research into the potential use of adult stem cells to treat disease, a field where Canadian researchers are hard at work.

Cardinal Renato Martino said Friday the Vatican fully supports the project because it does not involve embryonic stem cells, which the church opposes because it involves destruction of embryos. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said adult stem-cell research respects human life.

Canadian researchers are also sidestepping the thorny issue of using clones or embryos, instead exploring the potential of reprogramming adult stem cells to trigger the body to heal itself.


Mick Bhatia is trying to turn on the regenerative potential of adult human stem cells to repair damaged tissue. (CBC)

At McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Mick Bhatia and other scientists are trying to identify new chemicals they can modify into drugs that would turn on the regenerative potential of adult human stem cells to repair damaged tissue.

Using state-of-the-art screening technology, they are testing hundreds of chemicals to see which ones wake up stem cells and kick start them into repair mode.

"The idea is that instead of necessarily transplanting new cells to get that repair, can we activate the cells that are already there through a novel approach of using chemicals — chemicals turning into drugs," Bhatia said.

The goal is to use the stem cell-based therapies as a tool kit to repair damage caused by cancer and other serious diseases with catastrophic effects on the quality of life such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, he added.

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced it will contribute $11.5 million to support Bhatia's project, the Ontario Consortium for Regeneration Inducing Therapeutics. The collaborative effort also includes research institutions and universities in Waterloo, Ottawa and Toronto.

The Global Leadership Round in Genomics & Life Sciences or GL2 fund also commits $114.6 million to support the work of more than 230 researchers at eight research institutes across the province.

With files from The Associated Press