Amniotic fluid as stem cell source

By • Published: March 2nd, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Cells with the potential to restore sick or worn out organs are showing up in more places in the human body.

In a recent discovery, researchers from Wake Forest University and Harvard University found a potentially rich pool of stem cells in the amniotic fluid that protects babies in the womb.

The finding comes on the heels of a separate Harvard study that indicates skin cells can be transformed into stem cells, and a University of Florida study that shows ordinary human brain cells have self-renewal qualities and adaptability normally associated with stem cells.

Stem cells are present in an embryo at the earliest stirrings of life, and they reside in small numbers in our bodies throughout our lives.

They are prized because they have the remarkable ability to become any type of cell, a potentially useful trait as cures are sought for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

The cells found in amniotic fluid are apparently further along in their development than embryonic stem cells, which may make them less versatile and not as valuable for researching the earliest stages of human development.

But the amniotic cells do seem to have extraordinary powers. Scientists used them to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells.

Furthermore, these building-block cells are easily obtained during amniocentesis, a diagnostic procedure often performed during pregnancy.

The challenge that remains is for scientists to tap these newfound cells to solve age-old problems of injury and disease. Solutions may still be decades away.