Research & Innovation
The lab of Dario Fauza, MD, PhD (Surgery), has come closer than any lab in the country using fetal stem cells, taken from amniotic fluid during pregnancy, to fix congenital defects in babies. These mesenchymal stem cells can form many of the tissues needed by surgeons, including muscle, skin, cartilage and even bone. The idea is to harvest them during amniocentesis—which is often done when a congenital defect is seen on ultrasound—then use them to engineer tissues to repair the defects. Now, with the help of research fellow Shaun Steigman, MD, along with staff at the Center for Human Cell Therapy, the lab recently passed an important test, showing the cells can be grown up and banked by the hundreds of millions during the four- to six-month interval between amniocentesis and birth, while meeting FDA-accredited "Good Manufacturing Practice" standards.
The team isolated cells from diagnostic amniocentesis samples from pregnant women. In six of the 11 samples, they successfully expanded, cryopreserved, thawed and re-expanded the cells in sufficient numbers to potentially use in treatment. The first application is likely to be tissue-engineered "patches" to repair congenital diaphragmatic hernias—openings in the membrane separating the lungs and chest cavity from the visceral organs. A few more hurdles lie ahead before clinical trials can be conducted, but this work has taken the lab a significant step closer to being able to correct congenital defects by creating tissues from a baby's own cells.