Fluid surrounding babies in the womb could be a valuable source of stem cells for medical treatment. Pregnant women often undergo a medical procedure known as amniocentesis (pictured) during the first trimester to test for genetic disorders such as Downs Syndrome. Stem cells from the fluid collected in this way have been analysed by researchers keen to find an alternative to using embryos. The trick is to source cells that retain the ability to develop into any adult cell type. Previous research has shown that adult stem cells can be reprogrammed to behave like their embryonic counterparts, but only by introducing extra genes into their DNA. Grown on a gelatinous protein mixture in the lab, the stem cells from pregnant donors were chemically reprogrammed into an immature, flexible state very like that of those from the embryo. Bone, liver and nerve cells were all successfully grown from the samples.
Written by Brona McVittie