Stem Cells Extracted From Amniotic Fluid
July 5, 2012

Stem Cells Extracted From Amniotic Fluid

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Stem cell research is gaining headway, but is still controversial. Scientists hope that a new discovery regarding stem cells from amniotic fluid will pave the way to an alternative option. A collaborative group of researchers recently discovered that stem cells in amniotic fluid can be changed into a more flexible state, which could possibly open another option to embryonic stem cells.

The study was recently published in the journal Molecular Therapy and it described how a team of investigators from Imperial College London and the UCL Institute of Child Health were successful in reprogramming amniotic fluids without introducing extra genes.

Based on the findings, the researchers believe that stem cells from amniotic fluid could be held in banks for therapy or research purposes. Amniotic fluid, which surrounds and feeds the fetus, can be taken from the mother´s abdomen with a needle during amniocentesis and has stem cells from the fetus. These stem cells have more limitations in developing into other cells as compared to embryonic stem cells.

"These cells have a wide range of potential applications in treatments and in research. We are particularly interested in exploring their use in genetic diseases diagnosed early in life or other diseases such as cerebral palsy," noted Dr. Pascale Guillot, a representative of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, in a prepared statement.

In the project, the scientists utilized stem cells that were donated from mothers who were undergoing amniocentesis; amniocentesis has been used in the past in testing for genetic diseases. The cells were then grown on a gelatinous protein mixture in a lab and reprogrammed into a lower state by adding the drug valproic acid to the culture medium. The results showed that the reprogrammed cells had traits like those found in embryonic stem cells; embryonic stem cells have pluripotency, which means they have the ability to develop into any cell type found in the body. In particular, the reprogrammed cells from the amniotic fluid were able to develop into functioning cells like bone, liver, and nerve cells. The cells were also able to stay pluripotent after they were frozen and rethawed.

"Amniotic fluid stem cells are intermediate between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. They have some potential to develop into different cell types but they are not pluripotent. We've shown that they can revert to being pluripotent just by adding a chemical reagent that modifies the configuration of the DNA so that genes that are expressed in the embryo get switched back on,” explained Guillot in the statement.

The findings from the project showed that stem cells from amniotic fluid can possibly be used in treatments for a number of diseases, disease research, and drug screenings. Researchers are positive about the alternative to embryonic stem cells, as there is a limited number of donor embryos available. The study by Guillot and his colleagues shows that it is possible to have pluripotency in human cells without introducing foreign genetic material into the cells.

"This study confirms that amniotic fluid is a good source of stem cells. The advantages of generating pluripotent cells without any genetic manipulation make them more likely to be used for therapy,” remarked Dr. Paolo De Coppi, a member of the UCL Institute of Child Health who led the research with Guillot, in the statement. "At GOSH we have focused on building organs and tissues for the repair of congenital malformations, which are usually diagnosed during pregnancy. Finding the way of generating pluripotent cells from the fluid that surround the fetus in the womb move us one step further in the this direction.”

The study is funded by the Genesis Research Trust, the Henry Smith Charity, and the Action Medical Research.

"These new findings could be a step forward for treatments of a wide range of diseases that affect babies and children. We are proud of our history of funding medical breakthroughs and of our support for these researchers in their move towards life changing therapies," explained Dr. Caroline Johnston, the Research Evaluation Manager of the Action Medical Research, in the statement.