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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Stem Cells from Placentas – More Studies Show the Upsides from Preserving Tissues at Birth

Throwing away life. That may be the result of failing to preserve umbilical cords and placentas.

New studies continue to investigate and find opportunities to harvest pluripotent stem cells from umbilical cords and placentas. The latest study is summarized by ScienceDaily and online at Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

The key point? Saving tissue at birth may some day help save a life. Some day not so far off, we amy see legal issues over whether preservation of tissue should be paid for by insurance – or a medical monitoring fund – as a prophylactic tool for persons with significant genetic risks. Others will want to privately fund the preservation as a hedge against diseases that may be become curable through stem cells. Set out below are key excerpts from the ScienceDaily summary:

"The chorion is a part of the afterbirth and is normally discarded after delivery, but it contains stem cells of fetal origin that appear to be pluripotent — i.e., they can differentiate into different types of human cells, such as lung, liver, or brain cells. Since these functional placental stem cells can be isolated from either fresh or frozen term human placentas, this implies that if each individual’s placenta is stored at birth instead of thrown away, these cells can be harvested in the future if therapeutic need arises. This potential represents a major breakthrough in the stem cell field. (emphasis added).

In previous work, Drs. Serikov and Kuypers reported a novel technology to harvest blood-forming stem cells from the placenta to augment cord blood cells. These cells are "siblings" of the cord blood derived stem cells. Cord blood stem cells, unlike embryonic stem cells, have been used for many hundreds of successful bone marrow transplants. These transplants are mainly performed in children, as the amount of cells that can be harvested from cord blood is usually not sufficient for a successful transplant in adults. Adding placental-derived stem cells to the cord blood stem cells could make successful adult bone marrow transplants routinely possible.

The current report demonstrates that placental stem cells have much broader therapeutic potential than bone-marrow transplants, because they are pluripotent — i.e. able to differentiate into many different cell types — and they also generate growth factors that help in tissue repair. These cells are shown to integrate into different tissues when transplanted into mice, but like cord blood stem cells, and in contrast to embryonic pluripotent stem cells, they do not form tumor-like structures in mice.

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