By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — Spurred on by a beloved grandson with a neurological disability, Raymond Flynn, former mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, has joined the board of directors of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute (JP2MRI). He plans to use his expertise and contacts to bring more attention and funding to the Coralville-based JP2MRI’s rare disease research program.
Flynn, a devout, pro-life Catholic, first came into contact with JP2MRI in March 2015 when he was conducting a search to locate medical centers that could help his 7-year-old grandson, Braeden O’Doherty. Braeden has a rare neurological disorder, called a small cerebellum, which means he can’t walk without falling and is unable to speak. Fewer than 10 people worldwide suffer from this disease, for which there is no cure. For years, Flynn has been interested in adult stem cell research — as opposed to embryonic stem cell research — as a means for finding a cure.
“In my journey I heard very favorable things about the Pope John Paul II Medical Institute,” Flynn said. “I knew that it was a pro-life group studying and researching medical solutions to help people.”
Based in Iowa, JP2MRI is a secular nonprofit that focuses on finding cures for cancer, neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and multiple sclerosis), and rare and chronic diseases affecting adults globally. JP2MRI utilizes a strict, pro-life approach to create a variety of adult stem cells and Induced Pluripotent Stem (IPS) cells to find cures for a variety of diseases. JP2MRI is among the few research organizations in the country that refuse to conduct medical research using embryonic stem cells and aborted fetal tissue. Additionally, JP2MRI applies the majority of dollars it receives through donations directly towards ethical medical research efforts.
The Institute is working with Flynn to try to improve current therapies for his grandson’s condition and other neurodegenerative disorders through the use of adult stem cells. Jay Kamath, CEO of JP2MRI, said “We are thrilled to have Ray join our board. Through his personal experiences, Ray knows how challenging it is to currently find effective therapies or cures for a variety of rare diseases that impact families globally.”
Stem cell therapies offer a new and valuable treatment option for a variety of diseases that currently have few, if any, viable medical treatment options. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs that primarily treat or mask symptoms, stem cells hold the promise of repairing or regenerating damaged tissue and organs to offer patients a permanent cure, Kamath said.
Flynn, a frequent presence in his grandson’s life, said Braeden’s condition has improved slightly due to a supplement suggested to him by a pro-life adult stem cell researcher in Florida. Braeden still can’t talk and often falls when he walks, but his walking is getting better, Flynn said. He is thrilled that Braeden was able to make first Communion this year. “Nobody at first would have believed that he would make his first holy Communion, but in taking him to church at least a couple of times a week, I could see his constant love in being in church and in listening to me tell him stories about Jesus and his life. He loves being in the presence of priests, who all know him by name.”
Flynn is confident that he can help build awareness for JP2MRI through his involvement. “I speak with hundreds of special needs parents all the time, and when I speak to various Catholic and business groups all across America, I always try and give parents hope and encouragement. I also always tell the audience and the media that with God and good scientific research, all things are possible.”
To learn more about the Institute and its research programs, please visit jp2mri.org.