Amniotic Fluid and Placental Membranes

Unexpected Sources of Highly Multipotent Cells

Sean V. Murphy, PhD; Anthony Atala, MD

Disclosures

Semin Reprod Med. 2013;31(1):62-68. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Gestational tissue such as the placenta, placental membranes, and amniotic fluid are usually discarded following birth. Recently, researchers have identified gestational tissue as an untapped source of stem cells that are highly multipotent and possess potent immunosuppressive properties. Placental mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), human amnion epithelial cells (hAECs), and amniotic fluid-derived stem cells (AFSCs) have been shown to differentiate into various cell types including adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, pulmonary, neurogenic, hepatogenic, cardiac, and pancreatic lineages. Their immunomodulatory properties suggest that gestational stem cells may have an important application in the treatment of various inflammatory diseases such as graft versus host and autoimmune diseases. In clinical and preclinical studies, gestational stem cells have shown efficacy in the treatment of Crohn disease, lung disease, diabetes, repair of bone defects, heart disease, kidney disease, neural degeneration, and blood disorders. Stem cells derived from the placenta, placental membranes, and amniotic fluid are a valuable resource for the field of regenerative medicine.

Introduction

In recent years, gestational tissue such as the placenta, placental membranes, umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid have been recognized as an untapped resource for the field of regenerative medicine. These tissues have been shown to be a rich source of highly multipotent stem cells with potent immunosuppressive properties that make these cells an exciting new tool for the treatment of disease.[1–5] Human amniotic fluid has been used in prenatal diagnosis for >70 years. However, there is now evidence that amniotic fluid may have more utility than only as a diagnostic tool and may be a source of a powerful therapy for a multitude of congenital and adult disorders. Recently, researchers have isolated and characterized highly multipotent cells from the amniotic fluid and placental membranes.[1,2]

Amniotic fluid-derived stem cells (AFSCs) can be isolated from a small amount of the fluid obtained during amniocentesis, a procedure that is already performed in many pregnancies to screen for congenital abnormalities. Mesenchymal and epithelial stem cells can be obtained from the placenta and placental membranes, which are usually discarded following birth (Fig. 1). The advantage of these sources of stem cells is that there are no ethical and legal considerations associated with their collection and use. Cell culture experiments with these types of cells have provided evidence that they may have the potential to differentiate into various cell types including adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, pulmonary, neurogenic, hepatogenic, cardiac, and pancreatic lineages[1,6–8] (Fig. 2). The highly multipotent and anti-inflammatory properties of these gestational stem cells suggest potential clinical applications for the treatment of diseases including Crohn disease, lung disease, diabetes, bone defects, heart and kidney disease, neurologic disorders, and blood disorders.[9–13]

Figure 1.

Gestational tissue as a source of stem cells. Cell types with therapeutic potential can be derived from gestational tissue including the placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, and the fetal membranes.

Figure 2.

Multilineage differentiation of gestational stem cells. Stem cells derived from the amniotic fluid, placenta, and placental membranes have been differentiated into a diverse range of cell types, including but not limited to; neurons, hair and skin cells, pulmonary cells, cardiomyocytes, hepatocytes, pancreatic cells, osteocytes and adipocytes.

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