Scientists at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Harvard School of Medicine report in the Journal of Nature Biotechnology that they have isolated stem cells from amniotic fluid . Further, by introducing growth factors, they were able to get the anmiotic fluid-derived stem cells to differentiate (a concept from developmental biology describing the process by which cells acquire a “type”) into muscle, fat, bone, blood vessel, liver and nerve cells.
The anmiotic fluid-derived stem cells are pluripotent (meaning a stem cell that has the potential to differentiate into any of the three embryonic germ layers); the mesoderm, which develops into muscle, bone, blood and connective tissue; the endoderm, which develops into digestive organs and the lungs; and the ectoderm, which develops into nerves, skin and the nervous system.
Anmiotic fluid-derived stem cells have a number of advantages over embryonic stem cells:
(1) No embryo needs to be harmed in the harvesting of AFS cells
(2) AFS cells will not form tumor cells as embryo-derived cells do
(3) AFS cells are fast growing, doubling every 36 hours, and can thus be grown in large quantities
(4) Similar to embryonic stem cells, AFS cells have the potential of generating every type of adult cell
The work represents a giant step forward for stem cell research and raises the possibility that anmiotic fluid-derived stem cells will someday provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and engineered organs.
De Coppi et al. Isolation of amniotic stem cell lines with potential for therapy. Nat Biotechnol. 2007 Jan;25(1):100-6. Epub 2007 Jan 7.