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Mahidol team achieves stem-cell success

Oct 18. 2012
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By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation

A team of researchers at Mahidol University's Siriraj Hospital has successfully used a new method to extract pure stem cells from human amniotic fluid, which they say could be used in potential treatments for several severe conditions such as arthritis.


Dr Tatsanee Phermthai of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology’s Stem Cell Research and Development Unit who led the team, said the researchers had spent over five years developing the new method of isolating pure stem cells from the fluid, which protects unborn babies in the womb.
The method of obtaining the so-called “starter cells” was first described in the international medical journal BMC Cell Biology in 2010.
Since the discovery of stem cells in human amniotic fluid was first reported in 2004, scientists around the world have used various methods in an to attempt to isolate pure stem cells from the fluid in the hope that the cells could be used to create new medicines. Stem cells can differentiate into several kinds of human cells such blood cells, neurons, skin cells and heart muscle cells.
But in the past several years, many of those attempts have been shown to have limitations. Many scientists used the magnetic cell sorting method to extract the stem cells, but this method can contaminate the stem cells with particles known as micromagnetic beads.
Moreover, the current techniques use animal antibodies to culture and increase the number of stem cells in tissue plates. This causes heterogeneity and xeno-contamination of stem cells. When doctors or researchers inject these animal-tainted cells into the human body, they are automatically destroyed or rejected. Moreover, they are likely to develop into tumour cells.
To isolate pure stem cells from amniotic fluid, Tatsanee and her team collected samples of amniotic fluid from women in the 16th to the 20th week of pregnancy, during routine amniocentesis screening for foetal genetic problems. 
After culturing samples in tissue plates, they isolated a single starter cell to incubate in another plate. From this, the population of stem cells increased from one cell to 100 billion cells within two weeks.
“The starter-cell method could provide pure stem cells isolated from amniotic fluid,” Tatsanee said at a press conference.
The research team injected pure stem cells extracted using this method into mice as part of a study aimed at developing a treatment for arthritis. The results of this study are expected in four months.
“If we come up with a good result from the animal model, we will ask the Medical Council to approve clinical trials in humans,” Tatsanee said.

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