Researchers from the Imperial College of London and the University College London Institute of Child Health have discovered that stem cells found in amniotic fluid can be transformed in a way comparable to that of embryonic stem cells. The study is published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
Stems cells are a unique type of cell that can differentiate themselves into other types of cells to be used in the body. They have proven to be very useful in medical research and treatment applications. There are a couple of different properties that define a stem cell. First, is self-renewal which means they can go through various cell divisions and remain unchanged. Second, is potency which defines the stem cell’s ability to change into a different useful cell. The holy grail of stem cells are the ones that are pluripotent. This means the cell can differentiate into any fetal or adult type cell. The controversy arises however, with the means by which these cells are harvested. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from blastocysts, which is the very early stage of fetal development. Harvesting these essentially destroys the fetus which has caused much controversy among those who feel life begins at conception. Harvesting from other sources like adult requires drilling into bone or other more intensive procedures and usually amounts to few of the pluripotent stem cells that are desired.
Light on the Horizon
Dr Pascale Guillot, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College found that stem cells could be harvested from amniotic fluid derived from a common test done on expectant mothers called amniocentesis. The mothers donated the fluid, which was taken for other purposes , and the researchers used the stem cells harvested from this fluid. While the stems cells at this stage are not pluripotent, the researchers used valporic acid to essentially reprogram the stem cells back to a state very similar to embryonic stem cells. Dr. Guillot said, “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.” Dr Paolo De Coppi, from the UCL Institute of Child Health stated, “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.”
This is an extremely important piece of research because it has produced yet another way to harvest stem cells without the ethical problems that embryonic stem cell research creates. For more information, visit the Imperial College of London’s website at http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_3-7-2012-14-3-55.