Stem cells taken from amniotic fluid were used to restore gut structure and function following intestinal damage in rodents, in new research published in the journal Gut. The findings pave the way for a new form of cell therapy to reverse serious damage from inflammation in the intestines of babies.
The study investigated a new way to treat necrotizing enterocolitis ( NEC ), where severe inflammation destroys tissues in the gut.
Necrotizing enterocolitis is the most common gastrointestinal surgical emergency in newborn babies, with mortality rates of around 15 to 30% in the United Kingdom.
While breast milk and probiotics can help to reduce the incidence of the disease, no medical treatments are currently available other than surgery once NEC sets in. Surgical removal of the dead tissue shortens the bowel and can lead to intestinal failure, with some babies eventually needing ongoing parenteral nutrition or an intestinal transplant.
In the study, led by the University College London ( UCL ) Institute of Child Health, amniotic fluid stem ( AFS ) cells were harvested from rodent amniotic fluid and given to rats with necrotizing enterocolitis. Other rats with the same condition were given bone marrow stem cells taken from their femurs, or fed as normal with no treatment, to compare the clinical outcomes of different treatments.
NEC-affected rats injected with AFS cells showed significantly higher survival rates a week after being treated, compared to the other two groups. Inspection of their intestines, including with micro magnetic resonance imaging ( MRI ), showed the inflammation to be significantly reduced, with fewer dead cells, greater self-renewal of the gut tissue and better overall intestinal function.
While bone marrow stem cells have been known to help reverse colonic damage in irritable bowel disease by regenerating tissue, the beneficial effects from stem cell therapy in necrotizing enterocolitis appear to work via a different mechanism.
Following their injection into the gut, the AFS cells moved into the intestinal villi.
However, rather than directly repairing the damaged tissue, the AFS cells appear to have released specific growth factors that acted on progenitor cells in the gut which in turn, reduced the inflammation and triggered the formation of new villi and other tissues.
Stem cells are well known to have anti-inflammatory effects, but this is the first time that researchers have shown that amniotic fluid stem cells can repair damage in the intestines.
Although amniotic fluid stem cells have a more limited capacity to develop into different cell types than those from the embryo, they nevertheless show promise for many parts of the body including the liver, muscle and nervous system. ( Xagena )
Source: University College London, 2013