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Stem cells from womb fluid?

4 July 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 215

BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Madrid:
The fluid that surrounds a developing fetus in the womb could be a rich source of stem cells, according to a new study presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Madrid last week. Researchers at the University of Vienna say they have found 'pluripotent' cells, which are 'master' stem cells capable of developing into a wide range of different body cells, in amniotic fluid.

Markus Henstschlager and his team identified the cells in samples of amniotic fluid taken during routine amniocentesis procedures carried out on pregnant women. They found that the fluid contained cells with a key gene called Oct-4 switched on, which is known to be important to the versatility of embryo stem cells (ES cells). However, Hengstschlager cautioned that 'whether these cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells is a question that can only be answered by a variety of experiments'.

'In countries where the use of ES cells could be banned, maybe the use of amniotic fluid stem cells will be acceptable', said Arne Sunde, the new ESHRE chairman, although he also said that more research was needed.

A series of amendments to a new European Union (EU) directive on quality and safety standards for tissue donation, testing and distribution include a ban on embryo stem cell research throughout the EU. Sunde is opposed to the proposed ban, which could override member state legislation that permits such research. The amendments were passed by European members of parliament in April, although in June the Employment, Social Policy and Health Council decided against a ban, and agreed that individual countries should be free to draw up their own regulations.

Despite this, Sunde told delegates at the Madrid meeting that 'we anticipate that there will be an attempt at the second reading to reinstate the ban'. He went on to say that 'most scientists working with stem cells, whether embryonic or adult, agree that in order to find clinically viable treatments, research must continue on both types'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Amniotic fluid may hold 'ethical' stem cells
New Scientist |  30 June 2003
Experts Hope EU Will Research Stem Cells
Yahoo Daily News |  30 June 2003
Womb fluid yields stem cell find
BBC News Online |  30 June 2003
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