Invisible Hand - Amniotic Stem Cells
There is always a better way to do a thing if you're just willing to look and concentrate your energies in the proper direction.
Stem cells extracted from amniotic fluid
Updated 1/7/2007 10:00 PM
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Researchers have been able to derive human stem cells from the amniotic fluid surrounding babies in the womb, potentially providing a source of stem cells that is easily available and uncontroversial.
The amniotic stem cells grew readily into independent cell lines, or colonies, doubling in just 36 hours, the paper says. It was published in Sunday's edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., were able to get the amniotic cells to differentiate into fat, bone, muscle, blood, nerve and liver cells.
Stem cells can develop into almost all cell types and serve as the repair system for the body.
Such cells created from early-stage human embryos, called embryonic stem cells, have shown the greatest potential for turning into any cell needed. But they are controversial because making them requires destroying the embryo. President Bush cut all federal funding for research into new human embryonic cell lines in 2001.
The amniotic cells are neither human embryonic stem cells nor adult stem cells, which are slightly less resilient, says lead researcher Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest's Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering Institute.
"They're something in between," he says.
One advantage is that these cells, unlike embryonic stem cells, don't form tumors when implanted into mice.
Though much research into the safety and effectiveness of these potential embryonic stem cell substitutes still needs to be done, the huge advantage would be that they can be easily harvested from both amniotic fluid as well as placental tissue after a baby is born.
The scientists were also able to obtain similar stem cells from prenatal chorioni villius biopsies, commonly done on older women to test for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.
If a family "banked" a baby's amniotic stem cells at birth by freezing them, they could provide a potential line of stem cells to treat diseases the child might develop later, Atala says.
But even more important, because amniotic fluid is so easy to harvest, it would make it possible to create thousands of cell lines.
"If you banked 100,000 specimens, you'd be able to provide cells for 99% of the U.S. population with a perfect match for genetic transplantation," Atala says.
Says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology firm working to commercialize human stem cell technology: "Just 100 lines will match half the U.S. population. It's an exciting breakthrough."
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