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Stem Cells from Amniotic Fluid May Help Heal Premature Infants' Condition

Update Date: Mar 25, 2013 11:21 AM EDT
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Amniotic fluid may be the answer to heal a deadly illness that affects premature babies.

Called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), the condition consists of inflammation and affects 1 in 10 premature infants, who already have difficulty processing food. If left untreated, it can tear apart tissues of the gut and lead to organ failure, according to the BBC. While breastfeeding and probiotics can reduce the risk of major damage, the only way to actually eliminate the dangers of the condition is surgery. Unfortunately, as many as 40 percent of babies do not actually survive the necessary procedure.

Because doctors believe that the condition is on the increase, that makes it all the more important for researchers to devise a method to increase survival likelihood. That is why researchers from the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity Hospital turned to amniotic fluid for an answer. The fluid contains an abundance of stem cells, which can transform into any cell in the body.

According to RedOrbit, investigators engineered rats to have NEC. They were treated in one of three ways in order to compare outcomes. Some were injected with amniotic fluid that was harvested from pregnant rodents. Others were treated with bone marrow that had been obtained from their femurs, because such a treatment had proven successful in trials for irritable bowel syndrome. A third group was not treated and received normal nutrition.

The rats that had received bone marrow transplants did not show a significant level of improvement, indicating that different mechanisms were at play between IBS and NEC. However, the rats that were treated with amniotic fluid had increased survival rates a week after injection. They also found that there was less inflammation and fewer dead cells, as well as improved regeneration of gut tissue and better function of the intestines.

Such a treatment would pose a variety of problems as well though. Because it would be impossible to harvest amniotic fluid from all mothers during pregnancy, many babies would require the use of donor fluid. With donors, there is always a risk of rejection. In addition, since stem cells can become any kind of cell, that poses the risk of cancer.

It seems that the stem cells did not directly repair the problematic tissue. Instead, it served as a catalyst for a process that would repair them. Therefore, researchers hope to recreate that method and eliminate the need for stem cells at all.

The study was published in the journal Gut.

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