Tissue engineer Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. is reporting that his team has found stem cells in amniotic fluid. The Wake Forest researchers have used the amniotic stem cells to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells in the laboratory. The cells seem to be more stable than stem cells derived from embryos. Atala suggests that amniotic stem cells banked from 100,000 specimens would theoretically be enough to supply 99 percent of the U.S. population with perfect genetic matches for transplantation.
Stem cells taken from discarded umbilical cords have been used to treat diseases such as leukemia. Researchers at the University of Kansas isolated stem cells from the matrix that surrounds umbilical cords a couple of years ago and have used them to successfully treat rats with a version of Parkinson's disease.
Researchers hasten to say that the discovery does not mean that embryonic stem cells are irrelevant.
Reports the Washington Post:
"There's not going to be one shoe that fits all," said Robert Lanza, scientific director at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass. "We're going to have to see which ones are most useful for which clinical conditions."
George Daley, a Harvard stem cell researcher, echoed that sentiment. "They are not a replacement for embryonic stem cells," he said.
The Democrats intend to pass legislation that would lift President Bush's restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research during its vaunted 100 hours campaign. This action would mostly be symbolic at this point, since private and state funding of stem cell research has exploded in the last couple of years.