Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Placental Tissue Gives Gift of Life a Second Time

Stem cells from placental tissue collected after childbirth can now be used to develop treatments for conditions such as diabetes, with each placenta containing enough stem cells to potentially treat 100 patients.

Researchers from The University of Queensland have discovered a way to extract large quantities of endothelial stem cells from the tissue that supplies the foetus with nutrients during pregnancy. The specialist cells, which form part of the interior surface of blood vessels, are abundant in the placenta but it has not previously been possible to isolate them in sufficient quantities for use in treatments.

Study leader A/Prof Kiarash Khosrotehrani said researchers were now working to develop medical treatments from the endothelial stem cells. “One of the therapies we are exploring will benefit patients with any condition where blood supply to tissues is severely restricted, such as heart issues,” he said.

“We have recently discovered that endothelial stem cells form new blood vessels when injected into the body. A single placenta has enough stem cells for 100 doses, which means after giving life to a baby, the organ may then go on to give a new lease of life to many patients.”

Khosrotehrani said laboratory experiments had been promising. “We have conducted experiments in mice with restricted blood flow, and this has revealed that injected endothelial stem cells spur blood vessel growth and improve blood flow by up to 30–40% in just 2 weeks,” he said.

“This therapy would be a real breakthrough for patients with conditions such as type two diabetes or ischaemia, where blood flow is restricted, resulting in intense pain or wounds that won’t heal. For many patients with severely restricted blood flow their only option is amputation of the affected limb. This places a massive burden on the health system.”

The research is the subject of a patent application, and the research team is seeking funding for clinical trials. “We’re hoping to kickstart clinical trials as early as 2015,” Khosrotehrani said.