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Stem cell research could prevent premature births

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16 September 2011

BBSRC-funded researchers, investigating engineered tissue for use as an alternative to toxicity testing in animals, have also developed the first fully tissue-engineered fetal membrane from human stem cells that could significantly reduce the number of premature births. The research, which was carried out at the University of Reading, is published this week in the journal Tissue Engineering.

The leading cause of perinatal and neonatal mortality is pre-term birth, of which 40% is attributed to the pre-term premature rupture of fetal membranes (pPROM). Interventions during pregnancy, such as amniocentesis and fetoscopy (testing for birth defects), are associated with a high incidence of pPROM due to damage to the fetal amniotic membrane (AM).

The study was led by Dr Che Connon from the Reading School of Pharmacy in conjunction with University College London Hospital (UCLH).

Researchers successfully developed an artificial fetal membrane by using human amniotic stem cells and a compacted collagen gel containing human amniotic fibroblasts which form the structural framework for tissues. The resulting cellular-collagen construct displays many of the structural and functional properties of human amniotic membrane.

For pregnant women with a ruptured fetal membrane, the artificial AM can be used to replace the damaged area to allow her to carry the baby to term.

Cells from the human AM are of great interest as a source of cells for regenerative medicine. Another advantage is that placental tissue and amniotic membrane is readily available and easily procured without invasive procedures. The placenta and fetal membranes were collected under sterile conditions from healthy donor pregnant women undergoing delivery by elective term caesarean section at UCLH.

Dr Connon said: "A number of techniques to prevent pre-term births, such as plugging the insertion site with a silicon seal or with platelets, have been developed to seal off the membrane defect after fetoscopy, but none have proved to be of much benefit.

"The artificial AM retained structural and functional properties similar to normal AM and this human tissue construct may become a useful means to repair defects in the fetal membranes or cases of preterm premature rupture of the membranes."

ENDS

Notes to editors

For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman, University of Reading press office, tel: 0118 378 7388 or email: r.cheeseman@reading.ac.uk.

'Tissue engineering a fetal membrane' will appear this week in the journal Tissue Engineering at  www.liebertonline.com/loi/tea (will appear under Instant Online articles).

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .