Our sister organisation University College London (UCL) promoted Stem Cell Awareness Day this week with a video on YouTube featuring UCLH consultant Anna David and patients at University College Hospital.
The video is the work of the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine and includes interviews with Anna and Great Ormond Street surgeon Paolo de Coppi. It looks in detail at their work to use stem cells to treat complex birth defects.
Stem cells have the capacity to become other types of cell. Mr De Coppi has looked for naturally occurring stem cells fluid as a novel solution to some of the serious birth defects he sees. Around 40 per cent of patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital (www.gosh.nhs.uk) have some form of birth defect.
Each year 7,000 children in the UK and 150,000 in the US are born with birth defects. Amniotic fluid stem cells may eventually provide the best treatment for these babies. “About 1% of the cells in the amniotic fluid are stem cells, which are cells that can differentiate or become any other type of cell in the body, such as bone marrow, liver, or cardiac muscle cells for example.”
Mr De Coppi said “As a surgeon I often see the devastating effects of multiple reconstructive operations aimed at replacing damaged organs. I have therefore focused my research interests on stem cells and tissue engineering, trying to find new ways to treat complex birth defects. I have identified stem cells in the amniotic fluid  and found they have the ability to become many different types of cell. Our research aims to find ways of using these cells to repair and replace damaged tissues, so that babies are given the chance of a healthy life from the day they are born.”
“The idea is we can create tissues in a test tube using a baby’s own cells, and then implant these at birth. We’re looking at repairing organs like intestines or windpipes. Grown from a child’s own cells, there should be no rejection of tissue.”
Dr David said: “We are also looking to see if these cells can be used to treat genetic defects in the fetus, not just structural abnormalities such as birth defects.”
The video featuring Paolo De Coppi's work was produced and coordinated by the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. The Centre brings together 185 research groups across UCL and partners with a common interest in all aspects of stem cells, tissue engineering, repair and regeneration and the development of their therapeutic and biotechnological potential.