Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells Provide Another Alternative

Boston, MA -- Cells taken from the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn child and cultivated in a laboratory could be used to repair birth defects, the New Scientist reports.

Scientists Dario Fauza and Amir Kaviani of the Children's Hospital in Boston told members at an American College of Surgeons meeting on Wednesday that they found "early-stage embryonic cells" in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women. When "scaffold[ed]" together in a laboratory culture, the cells quickly grew into connective tissue, which could be used as tissue grafts to repair certain birth defects such as holes in the abdomen or chest.

Kaviani said that "just 2 milliliters of amniotic fluid" can provide up to 20,000 cells, 80% of which are viable.

In 1997, Fauza and colleagues reported that they successfully performed in utero surgery on ewes to remove cells directly from an unborn child, then cultured and grafted excess tissue to repair tumor sites on the newborn lambs; however, this surgical procedure was found to increase the risk of miscarriage.

In addition to being safer for both mother and unborn children, the process of taking cells from amniotic fluid yielded tissue that grew "much faster" than the cells taken directly from unborn children, the scientists stated . Since many pregnant women already undergo amniocentesis to screen for fetal abnormalities, doctors could simply isolate cells from the test fluid of infants with defects and save it for future surgery, Fauza said.

Fauza added that he does not know whether the cells found in amniotic fluid are "true stem cells," but he said that they "proliferate very quickly."

Referring to the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a tissue engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that amniotic fluid is a "nice, unproblematic source" for cells used to repair birth defects. Approximately one in 5,000 infants is born with a "body wall defect" that might be corrected with a tissue graft.

Source: New Scientist; October 11, 2001

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