With the addition of various growth factors, the authors report the amnion-derived cells could differentiate to become liver cells, heart cells, the glial and neuronal cells that make up the nervous system, and pancreatic cells with genetic markers for insulin and glycogen production.
"In this first paper we sought to determine if amniotic epithelial cells have the potential to differentiate into many different cell types rather than focusing on ways for optimizing this potential for a specific cell type. Further studies will be required to better understand if and how they may be useful in a clinical setting," Dr. Strom added.
The researchers say their original motivation was, and still is, to identify cells with the same therapeutic promise as embryonic stem cells. To this end, they began looking at the viability of amnion as a cell source in late 2001, obtaining discarded placentas from full-term births under an Institutional Review Board-approved protocol. In 2002, the University of Pittsburgh licensed the technology to a company now called Stemnion, LLC, and as part of the agreement, and in keeping with university patent policy, Drs. Strom and Miki will receive license proceeds. Both have served as paid consultants and hold equity in Stemnion.
The research was supported by the Alpha-1 Foundation and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. In addition to Drs. Miki and Strom, other authors are Thomas Lehmann