The amniotic fluids of human gestation are emerging as source of laboratory and medically useful stem cells. Early research had suggested this might not be the case, but techniques outlined in a new study show that not only can amniotic stem cells be used for (possibly) pluripotent stem cells, but they have a lower incidence of tumor growth than embryonic stem cells.
Reporting in Oncogene, a publication of Nature Publishing Group, the research teams of Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Markus Hengstchläger, Ph.D., from the Medical University of Vienna, have shown that these amnion stem cells can form three-dimensional aggregates of cells known as embryoid bodies (EBs). It is believed that cells at this stage of development can be directed to become virtually any cell in the human body.
“This finding suggests that the amnion cells have greater potential than we originally thought and may be able to form many cell types,” said Atala. “This could expand the number for diseases and conditions that they may be helpful for.”
“These stem cells allow for studying the effects of mutations causing human genetic diseases on specific cell differentiation processes,” he said.
Other potential advantages of the cells are that they can be grown in large quantities and are readily available during gestation and at the time of birth. “Whether these cells are as versatile as embryonic stem cells remains to be determined,” said Atala, “but the current finding is certainly encouraging.”
Atala stopped short of calling the cells pluripotent, which means the ability to form many cell types. He said while the cells meet some of the characteristics of pluripotency, such as versatility, they do not form tumors when implanted in animals, which is also considered a characteristic. The fact that the amnion cells are less likely to form tumors may be one advantage that they have over embryonic stem cells in their potential for clinical use.