Alternative stem cell source: amniotic fluid

Stem cells from amniotic fluid can be converted into a more versatile state which is similar to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), scientists said last week. British researchers said they had been successful in reprogramming amniotic fluid cells without introducing extra genes. This suggests that stem cells derived from donated amniotic fluid could be stored in banks and used for medical research and therapies, they said, providing a less ethically problematic alternative to hESCs.

hESCs are harvested from embryos and have the potential to adapt to become other types of tissue. Other kinds of stem cells, such as adult or "induced pluripotent" stem cells, are less controversial but, as some claim, less flexible. Researchers are always keenly searching for alternatives to embryonic stem cells, due to ethical concerns and the limited availability of donor embryos. In this study, published in the journal Molecular Therapy, researchers from Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) said amniotic fluid stem cells appear to be an intermediary between adult and embryonic stem cells.

"They have some potential to develop into different cell types but they are not pluripotent," said Pascale Guillot, of Imperial College London. He said, however, that their study showed that these cells can revert to being fully "pluripotent", or flexible, by adding a chemical that alters the configuration of the DNA. The cells were grown on a gelatinous protein mixture in the lab and then reprogrammed into a more primitive state using a drug called valproic acid. The researchers tested the reprogrammed cells and found they were pluripotent -- that is, they were very similar to embryonic stem cells.

Previous research has shown it is possible to make adult cells become pluripotent by inserting extra genes into the cells, often using viruses. However, the efficiency of this type of programming is relatively low and disrupting the DNA can cause a variety of problems. Paolo de Coppi, of UCL, said: "The advantages of generating pluripotent cells without any genetic manipulation make them more likely to be used for therapy". ~ Reuters, Jul 3

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells, iPS cells, stem cells

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