Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine recently published results from a “one of a kind study”, which looked at the role of fetal stem cells from placenta and heart repair. The study examined female mice that underwent midgestation heart injury and survived. What researchers discovered was that fetal stem cells migrated to the mother mouse’s heart and repaired the damage. The team then repeated the study in vitro and achieved the same results.
The study provides great hope in finding a reliable regenerative medicine treatment for heart failure. Current treatments being researched involve the use of embryonic stem cells or bone marrow and both have produced mixed results. Mt. Sinai researchers believe that fetal stem cells are more effective not just in treating heart disease but other diseases as well. The reason for their improved effectiveness is believed to be because they lack mature immune recognition molecules, so they are not rejected when implanted. The cells also did not migrate to any other healthy organs.
Another benefit to using fetal stem cells from the placenta is that these cells do not raise any ethical issues as the placenta is routinely discarded after delivery. After Geron’s withdrawal from the stem cell business a couple weeks ago (see the Cell Culture Dish “Geron Stops Stem Cell Trial to Focus on Cancer Therapies”), Advanced Cell Technology is the only company currently conducting clinical trial research using embryonic stem cells. Some believe that embryonic stem cells are on the way out and adult stem cells are becoming more popular because they lack ethical concerns, but they also lack the flexibility and pluripotent qualities of embryonic stem cells. Perhaps fetal stem cells are the perfect solution – flexibility without the ethical debate.
This study could also explain why women who suffer from peripartum cardiomyopathy heart failure during or shortly after pregnancy have better recovery rates than other heart failure groups.
The promise of stem cells is tremendous and possible treatments endless, but roadblocks for this technology loom large. For one, investment is a challenge. As we saw with Geron, venture capital groups are hesitant to invest in unproven technology that has yet to navigate its way through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. This technology also takes time and investors are frequently impatient (see The Cell Culture Dish “Is Medical Progress and Innovation in Jeopardy?”).
Lastly these treatments raise questions about manufacturing and safety. Good manufacturing practices are critical to any drug or medical treatment, but it is also important to look at the need for good “animal-free” manufacturing practices for stem cell therapies. Stem cells are frequently grown using animal components, including fetal bovine serum, and there is always a concern about adventitious infectious agents contaminating the stem cells. As we move these applications from hope to reality the focus will change from is it possible to how will it be manufactured in a safe environment.
As a mother myself, I am routinely amazed by nature’s perfect design. This is why I feel stem cell therapies hold so much promise. If we can harness the power of our own cells to heal and can successfully navigate the roadblocks, then medicine has a very bright future.
For Further Reading:
- Fierce Biotech Article – Fetal Stem Cells From Placenta Could Be Heart Treatment Breakthrough
- Mount Sinai School of Medicine Press Release
- Circulation Research Publication – Fetal Cells Traffic to Injured Maternal Myocardium and Undergo Cardiac Differentiation
- BioNews Article – Mouse Fetal Stem Cells Mend Mum’s Broken Heart