Placentas could be an important source of stem cells to fight disease

By Sandy Kleffman, Contra Costa Times

The human placenta could be an important source of stem cells for curing leukemia, sickle cell disease and other blood-related disorders, a new study reveals.

These stem cells appear to have distinct advantages over the techniques currently used to fight such diseases, and they may one day provide an alternative treatment for people who cannot find matching bone marrow donors, researchers said.

Scientists at Children’s Hospital Oakland obtained placentas from consenting women who had cesarean sections at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

They found that the placentas contained large numbers of blood-producing stem cells, which they were able to remove and grow in a cell culture.

“Yes, the potential is there,” said senior scientist Frans Kuypers. “Yes, you can get them out, and yes, they’re viable.”

One big advantage of such stem cells is that they do not require the perfect match needed for those who have bone marrow transplants, Kuypers said, because they do not trigger the same strong immune system response.

Today, scientists often seek to cure people who have leukemia and other blood-related disorders by giving them stem cell-rich bone marrow from donors who have closely matched tissue types. The transplanted bone marrow makes healthy blood cells to replace the faulty ones.

But if the donor has a different tissue type, the recipient’s body will not recognize the new cells and will attack them, leading to what is known as graft-versus-host disease.

The placental stem cells, like umbilical cord blood, “are much more tolerant with respect to matching,” Kuypers said.

The findings, which will appear in the July issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine, could represent especially good news for African-Americans, Asians and multiracial individuals, who often have difficulty obtaining compatible bone marrow donors.

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