Pope Benedict XVI endorsed adult stem cell research Wednesday, distinguishing it from the manipulation of stem cells from human embryos, which the Roman Catholic Church condemns.
Speaking at the end of his weekly general audience, the Roman Catholic leader saluted delegates at a global conference on the use of adult stem cells to treat cardiac problems, organised by La Spaienza university in Rome.
"On this matter the position of the Church, supported by reason and by science, is clear," he said.
"Scientific research must be encouraged and promoted, so long as it does not harm other human beings, whose dignity is inviolable from the very first stages of existence."
The Roman Catholic Church believes that an embryo is wholly a human being. For that reason, it condemns abortion and genetic manipulation such as research on embryonic stem cells.
Unlike embryonic stem cells, or primitive cells from early-stage embryos capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body, adult stem cells divide to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues.
They can be isolated from tissue samples taken from adults, and -- unlike embryonic stem cells -- they are already being used to tackle a number of diseases, including several forms of cancer.