Mini-organs obtained from stem cells in amniotic fluid

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Mini-organs obtained from stem cells in amniotic fluid

Mini-organs obtained from stem cells taken from amniotic fluid herald a revolutionary step forward in prenatal diagnosis, with the possibility of following the entire development of the fetus, including the last stages of pregnancy which have so far been so difficult to study. Mini organs are not just a tool for diagnosis, but living laboratories for testing drugs, identifying the most effective ones for personalized therapies.

Lungs, kidneys and intestines are the miniature organs, or organoids, obtained so far in the research published in the journal Nature Medicine and conducted in Great Britain, at University College London, with the coordination of the Italian Paolo De Coppi. Another Italian, Mattia Gerli, is the first author of the work, in which the Great Ormond Street Hospital also collaborated “A new era opens, until now it was not possible to obtain a result like this in a non-invasive way”, said De Coppi at ANSA.

“Much research is still needed, but the road is open and the first clinical trials could be ready within four or five years,” he added. “Until now, amniocentesis has allowed the genetic analysis of the fetus, but now it becomes possible to use this technique to the fullest.” In essence, with the possibility of obtaining mini organs from amniotic fluid cells, amniocentesis is destined to become 3D. “Amniotic fluid is a resource – observed Gerli – and in our research we have obtained a cell-by-cell map”. In the study, cells collected from amniotic fluid during prenatal investigations in 12 pregnancies between 16 and 34 weeks were taken.

“The organoids obtained from amniotic fluid cells – said Gerli – show many of the functions of the tissues they represent, including the expression of genes and proteins. They will allow us to study what happens during development in both health and disease, which has never been possible before. We know so little about late human pregnancy, so it's incredibly exciting to open up new areas of prenatal medicine.” An eloquent example, in this regard, is the lung organoid of a fetus affected by congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a defect of the diaphragm that generates respiratory failure and pulmonary hypertension. It affects one in 4,000 individuals, like cystic fibrosis, and has a high mortality rate of around 30%.

Thanks to the organoid, it was possible to experiment with different types of drugs, with the aim of identifying the most effective, tailored to the characteristics of the fetus. A new path truly opens up, considering that so far the techniques used to obtain organoids useful for studying the development of the fetus have been based mainly on the collection of tissues from aborted fetuses, with consequent legal and ethical implications. All this has so far effectively limited research on the development of the fetus in the final stages of pregnancy. “Now it becomes possible to study the development of the fetus in a continuous and non-invasive way,” De Coppi said. “For the first time we have managed to make a functional evaluation of the congenital condition of a child before birth, which – he concluded – represents a huge step forward for prenatal medicine”.

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