Stem cells from amniocentesis used to grow organoids

By Steven Mew,

Australian Science Media Centre

Stem cells found in the fluid from the amniotic sac, which houses a developing baby within the womb, could be used to grow organoids, according to researchers from the UK who say that this technique could help to develop specific therapies for babies who have congenital diseases.

Previously, the stem cells required to create organoids have mostly come from terminated pregnancies, which means they come with a host of legal and ethical questions. This new technique harvests the cells using amniocentesis, which is often used during pregnancy to test for conditions such as Down Syndrome. 

These stem cells were then grown into organ-like structures that had many of the same characteristics as organs, including the small intestine, kidney and lungs. 

Bioethicist, Dr Evie Kendal from Swinburne University of Technology told the AusSMC that this means that parents could be provided personalised counselling and targeted therapies for pregnancies affected by developmental conditions. 

“At present, some parents can be told their developing fetus has a disease, but not how severe it will be. This makes it very difficult for them to make informed decisions regarding potential interventions” she says.

Stem cells organoids might treat diseases

This new technique might be able to change that.

“It could enhance the autonomy of parents by providing better information to guide decision-making.”

To demonstrate how this might work with a developmental disorder, the researchers created organoids from babies who had a genetic lung condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia. The organoids they created showed clear features of the disease. 

Associate Professor Kuldip Sidhu, co-founder and director of CK Cell Technologies and Conjoint Professor with the University of New South Wales, told the AusSMC that the technique is a significant progression of existing techniques.

However, he said one caveat was that the late diagnosis of such fetal genetic diseases with this technique could add to the conundrum facing expectant mothers and families to “make difficult decisions even more difficult.” 

Further expert reaction here.

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