Vatican host conference on stem cells, other regenerative medicine

VATICAN CITY (CBS/KLFY) — The Vatican seems like an unlikely setting for an international cancer conference involving stem cell research, but it is.

Doctors, patients, and politicians are meeting to discuss breakthroughs and future treatments. But one young cancer survivor from New York is stealing the show.

Elana Simon is in Vatican City talking about her cancer battle, doctors diagnosed the 20-year-old with a rare liver cancer eight years ago.

She’ll speak to some of the world’s leading cancer researchers at the Cellular Horizons Medical Conference.

Doctors removed Elana’s tumor when she was only 12.

While in remission, Elana went on YouTube and asked other kids with her type of cancer to send in samples of their own tumors, 65 did.

She and her scientist father discovered a common mutation in each sample that was sent in.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Max Gomez introduced Elana at the conference. Dr. Max says, she was able to take her own cancer and grab it by the horns, do genetic sequencing on it and really find out what caused cancer, he called it remarkable.

Elana says, she thinks her research could someday help find cures for common cancers.

The Third International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact will be held at the Vatican from April 28 to 30, 2016, according to a statement released today by the Vatican.

The goal of the event, created by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council For Culture, The Stem For Life Foundation and STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest), is to engage in discussions about the potential for adult stem cells, and other ethical cellular therapies, to treat cancer, diabetes and a other debilitating medical conditions and diseases.

According to the conference’s website, there will be a particular focus on pediatric cancers, rare genetic diseases and diseases that occur with aging.

“All of society can be enriched thanks to this dialogue, which opens up new horizons for thought and expands the possibilities of reason. … The Church has no wish to hold back the marvelous progress of science,” Pope Francis wrote in his 2013 Evangelii gaudium, a written document known as an apostolic exhortation.

The event is being held for the third time; the first and second were in 2011 and 2013. It will feature the world’s leading cellular researchers, physicians, ethicists, philanthropists, business leaders, patients and political figures and will be moderated by renowned journalists and broadcast around the world.

According to the statement, some of the goals of the 2016 conference will be to:

  • Discuss and understand the importance of scientific advancements, technology and data in the paradigm shift toward regenerative medicine, with a particular focus on cellular therapies.
  • Unite people, without prejudice, creating an open dialogue about the interconnections between cellular research, technology, faith and culture.
  • Foster an international conversation among researchers, physicians, philanthropists, faith leaders and policy-makers in order to help identify a pathway to bring cellular cures to those in medical need throughout the world to reduce human suffering.
  • Catalyze the necessary funding to support the development of cell therapies that will cure and treat a broad range of debilitating diseases and medical conditions.

“Scientific research has increased the possibilities for maintaining health, preventing illness, and treating the sick,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said in the statement. “The new field of regenerative medicine holds great promise to alleviate the pain and suffering for hundreds of millions of people around the world. We must unite to discover and advance such new therapies, and find ways to bring them to all those in need.”

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