Many stem cell populations (e.g. embryonic, adult, and fetal stem cells) as well as methods for generating pluripotent cells (e.g. nuclear reprogramming) have been described to date. All of them carry specific advantages and disadvantages and, at present, it has yet to be established which type of stem cell represents the best candidate for cell therapy. However, although it is likely that one cell type may be better than another, depending on the clinical scenario, the recent discovery of easily accessible cells of fetal derivation, not burdened by ethical concerns, in the AF has the potential to open new horizons in regenerative medicine. Amniocentesis, in fact, is routinely performed for the antenatal diagnosis of genetic diseases and its safety has been established by several studies documenting an extremely low overall fetal loss rate (0.060.83%) related to this procedure (Caughey et al., 2006; Eddleman et al., 2006). Moreover, stem cells can be obtained from AF samples without interfering with diagnostic procedures.

Two stem cell populations have been isolated from the AF so far (i.e. AFMSCs and AFS cells) and both can be used as primary (not transformed or immortalized) cells without further technical manipulations. AFMSCs exhibit typical MSC characteristics: fibroblastic-like morphology, clonogenic capacity, multilineage differentiation potential, immunosuppressive properties, and expression of a mesenchymal gene expression profile and of a mesenchymal set of surface antigens. However, ahead of other MSC sources, AFMSCs are easier to isolate and show better proliferation capacities. The harvest of bone marrow remains, in fact, a highly invasive and painful procedure, and the number, the proliferation, and the differentiation potential of these cells decline with increasing age (DIppolito et al., 1999; Kern et al., 2006). Similarly, UCB-derived MSCs exist at a low percentage and expand slowly in culture (Bieback et al., 2004).

AFS cells, on the other hand, represent a novel class of pluripotent stem cells with intermediate characteristics between ES cells and AS cells (Siegel et al., 2007; Bajada et al., 2008). They express both embryonic and mesenchymal stem cell markers, are able to differentiate into lineages representative of all embryonic germ layers, and do not form tumors after implantation in vivo. However, AFS cells have only recently identified and many questions need to be answered concerning their origin, epigenetic state, immunological reactivity, and regeneration and differentiation potential in vivo. AFS cells, in fact, may not differentiate as promptly as ES cells and their lack of tumorigenesis can be argued against their pluripotency.

Although further studies are needed to better understand their biologic properties and to define their therapeutic potential, stem cells present in the AF appear to be promising candidates for cell therapy and tissue engineering. In particular, they represent an attractive source for the treatment of perinatal disorders such as congenital malformations (e.g. congenital diaphragmatic hernia) and acquired neonatal diseases requiring tissue repair/regeneration (e.g. necrotizing enterocolitis). In a future clinical scenario, AF cells collected during a routinely performed amniocentesis could be banked and, in case of need, subsequently expanded in culture or engineered in acellular grafts (Kunisaki et al., 2007; Siegel et al., 2007). In this way, affected children could benefit from having autologous expanded/engineered cells ready for implantation either before birth or in the neonatal period.

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Fetal Stem Cell - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

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