Amniotic Stem Cell Research

There is excitement surrounding a new source of stem cells—one that helps avoid the controversy surrounding stem cells obtained from human embryos. They come from the amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds a baby--it’s the fluid that comes out when the water breaks, so to speak. It turns out, that fluid, as well as the placenta, is a good source of stem cells that may prove to be incredibly promising. Stem cells are cells from which all cells develop: they carry the internal program to become any cell type in the body. In theory, those obtained from a human embryo are likely to have the most potential, but are controversial. Adult stem cells obtained from donor tissues are much less of an issue, but may not be as desirable or have as much potential. However, amniotic fluid stem cells are kind of between the two.

Dr. Anthony Atala, the researcher and Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, says, They actually have priorities that are consistent, similar properties with human embryonic stem cells but they also have properties of the adult stem cells, so it is really a class of its own. They grow very rapidly, they double every thirty six hours just like human embryonic stem cells, but unlike other cell types for example like adult stem cells they dont form tumors when implanted in tissue.

Dr. Atala and his colleagues have been successful with every cell type they’ve tried to make from the stem cells. They’ve used them to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells in the laboratory. These amniotic stem cells are easy to obtain, and harvesting them costs only a few dollars worth of chemicals per patient when isolating these cells during a birth.

Dr. Atala says, “Ideally if one was to have a bank of one hundred thousand specimens, one can theoretically supply 99 percent of the US population with a perfect genetic match for a transplantation.” The cells will hopefully be used to help treat and even cure numerous diseases: to grow brain cells to replace those damaged by Parkinson’s disease or strokes; to grow a new pancreas for diabetics, and grow new heart muscle for those with severe heart disease.

“We are certainly excited about these cells in terms of what the potential could be. We are really looking at therapies we knew we couldn’t do much about and now we know something could be done, a cure, that cure could be just around the corner, but of course it could be years away,” says Dr. Atala. Maybe these cells won’t help our generation, but it’s very reasonable to expect some incredible things may come out of this discovery that will benefit our children, and their children.


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