Sunday, 3 March 2013

Amniotic stem cell trial for prematurely born infants

Researchers from the Melbourne's Monash Institute of Medical Research (MMIMR), Australia announced yesterday a new technique for repairing the damaged lungs of prematurely born infants.The method will be tested in 10 babies in Malaysian hospitals and if everything goes well more trials will be conducted in the MMIMR facilities. The method uses stem cells extracted by the baby's amniotic sac.

Currently, the researchers are also investigating whether or not these stem cells can be used to combat other premature birth related conditions, like brain damage. They claim that they have already managed to create many different types of somatic cells, including the ones comprising bone, brain muscle, fat cartilage, liver, pancreatic and lung tissue.

The trial will be conducted in private Malaysian hospitals and the first results are expected to be announced sometime by the end of 2013. The clinical trial will be conducted by Hygieia Innovations, a biopharmaceutical Malaysian company focused "on developing novel stem cell therapeutics to address major unmet medical needs."

For now, the stem cell treatment has only been tested on animals. The studies showed that amniotic stem cells, administered intravenously, can repair the lungs of prematurely born lambs at 117 days gestation (the equal of an infant born at 23 weeks after fertilization). 

According to the researchers, the improvement in the animal studies was so great that there was virtually no difference between the treated prematurely-born lambs and the normally born ones. They also claim that the cells have shown great promise in the treatment of chronic inflammation while their findings indicate they may be also used to repair brain injuries.

Rebecca Lim, one of the key researchers said:

"They (amniotic cells) have turned (into) every cell we have asked them to turn into; they have turned into lung, pancreas, liver, brain muscle, fat cartilage, bone - just about everything that traditional stem cells do"

According to Lim, once injected the stem cells automatically migrate to the damaged area, repairing and regenerating the damaged cells and tissues.

It is estimated that each birth produces around 150-200 million amniotic cells, which the researchers have only four hours to harvest in order to retain their viability.

The amniotic sac (also called bag of waters) is the sac in which the embryo develops during pregnancy. When seen in the light, the amniotic sac is shiny and very smooth.

Image of an amniotic sac
An amniotic sac opened after birth for examination


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