The lab of Children's surgeon Dario Fauza, MD, has come closer than any in the country to using fetal stem cells, taken from amniotic fluid during pregnancy, to fix congenital defects in babies. These multipotent mesenchymal stem cells can form many of the tissues needed by surgeons, including muscle, skin, cartilage and even bone. Fauza's strategy is to harvest them during amniocentesis—which mothers often undergo when fetal malformations are seen on ultrasound—and have engineered tissues ready to implant when the baby is born.
Now, his lab has passed an important test, showing that these fetal cells can be grown up and banked by the hundreds of millions—enough to potentially use in treatment—during the four- to six-month interval between amniocentesis and birth, while also meeting FDA-accredited Good Manufacturing Practice standards.
Although some hurdles remain before clinical trials can begin, the first application will likely be tissue-engineered "patches" to repair life-threatening congenital diaphragmatic hernias—openings in the membrane that separates the chest cavity from the visceral organs. Instead of Teflon patches, which eventually tear loose in growing children, Fauza hopes to use patches grown from babies' own cells.