A study using mice model experiments, performed by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has discovered that transplanting a mother’s stem cells into her unborn baby could help fill its bone marrow with healthy cells while preventing the fetus’s immune system from rejecting them.
"This research is really exciting because it offers us a straightforward, elegant solution that makes foetal stem cell transplantation a reachable goal," says research leader and University of California pediatric surgeon Tippi MacKenzie.
Should the results also hold for humans, then doing so would help prepare the baby for an actual bone marrow transplant from its mother after birth.
Bone marrow transplants can treat sicknesses such as sickle cell anemia and beta thalassemia, caused by abnormal red blood cells. The problem with bone marrow transplants, though, is that there has to be a proper match.
By transplanting stem cells into the unborn baby, its “immature immune system” might be fooled into thinking the mother’s stem cells as its own.
Says MacKenzie, "The fetus is wired to tolerate cells—when it encounters cells from mom, it tolerates them."
Despite the procedure’s potential, early tests on humans resulted in the donor cells being rejected and destroyed before the fetus could even absorb them. This was because they used cells which were not matched to the mother or unborn baby, resulting in a surge of maternal immune cells.
The study discovered that if the transplanted stem cells were matched to the mother, then it is irrelevant whether they are matched to the fetus, because it was the mother’s system which would attack and reject the transplant.
"Now that we know a foetus can become tolerant to a foreign stem cell source, we can really think big and consider looking at how other types of stem cells might be used to treat everything from neurological disorders to muscular disorders before birth," said Mackenzie.
SOURCES: • Lauren Gravitz. January 21, 2011. “Treating Genetic Disorders Before Birth” TechnologyReview.com • January 20, 2011. “Using Mother’s Stem Cells to Treat Genetic Disease Before Birth” Scicasts.com • Jen R. January 19, 2011. “Mother’s Stem Cells May Treat Genetic Disorders in Unborn Infants” GrowingYourBaby.com