A new source of mesenchymal stem cells

A team of scientists and clinicians from Lund University in Sweden developed a multi-stage method that allows the safe collection of a large number of mesenchymal stem cells from the amniotic fluid. The results of the study are published in Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

Amniotic fluid surrounding the embryo during pregnancy is usually disposed of by caesarean section. However, more and more research results indicate that amniotic fluid is a source of valuable biological material, for example stem cells (SC), which have a high potential for use in cell therapy and regenerative medicine.

Swiss scientists have developed a multi-step method, including a unique collection device, as well as new ways of obtaining and treating cells that can safely collect amniotic fluid to isolate SC in large quantities.

The new method is used for caesarean section. Carrying out annually millions of such operations around the world opens the potential for the use of an unused reserve of stem cells and bioactive molecules from the amniotic fluid.

“We showed that using our device, we can collect up to a litre of amniotic fluid at full-term caesarean deliveries. The collection added on average 90 seconds to the operation, and was safe for both mother and child,” – says Associate Professor Andreas Herbst, lead clinician and a corresponding author of the study.

The cell collection device, which has been constructed with bio-inert plastics and 3D printing technologies, forms a seal with the fetal cavity, that allows the removal of large volumes of amniotic fluid in a sterile environment, carefully and completely safely. The collected liquid contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which have a high therapeutic potential.

MSCs can be obtained from other tissues of the body. They have already proved therapeutic potential for immune and inflammatory-mediated diseases, such as diseases of the cardiovascular system, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, etc.

Though, the difficulty in obtaining sufficient number of these cells limits their wide application in cell therapy and tissue repair applications.

“Full term amniotic fluid, being an easily obtainable and abundant tissue source, may be the solution for MSC based cell therapy and regenerative medicine applications,” – says Niels-Bjarne Woods, a corresponding author in the study.

Because the procedure is carried out at the planned cesarean section, additional invasive procedures are not required to collect MSCs, in contrast to obtaining mesenchymal stem cells from the bone marrow.

The research team also demonstrated another potential application of MSCs from amniotic fluid: by converting them into embryonic-like stem cells, scientists can potentially receive all types of body cells, including neurons, blood cells and cardiomyocytes.

“The combination of this novel device and the coupled cellular selection and cultivation methods could be transformative for the stem cell field, as large quantities of newborn-MSC’s can be provided by utilizing this waste material. The safety standards we adhere to are also a central component for gaining clinical acceptance. The obvious next step would be to evaluate these cells further in the laboratory and, if successful, in disease models,” – says Dr Marcus Larsson, clinician and a corresponding author on the publication.

The long-term goal is that the collection of amniotic fluid will be accepted in clinics worldwide, and thus the number of matched MSCs obtained would fast increase to finally be available for genetically selected individual treatment of anyone who needs therapy with mesenchymal stem cells.

“Now that we have demonstrated the feasibility to access this neonatal MSC source, our hope is that many more research groups will start working with these cells. This will accelerate our understanding of their full therapeutic potential,” – says Dr. Niels-Bjarne Woods.