Editors' ChoiceInterstitial lung disease

Amnion Epithelial Cells: Cell Therapy Going Green!

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Science Translational Medicine  08 Sep 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 48, pp. 48ec138
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001653

The high mortality rate associated with interstitial lung diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis demands extensive research to find a cure, which so far remains elusive. Stem cell–based therapy seems promising, but the studies are still limited to animal models. The three primary types of stem cells studied so far—lung-derived progenitor cells, bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells, and embryonic stem cells—have limitations as far their clinical applicability, especially the controversial use of embryonic stem cells that require the destruction of human embryos for their production. A new study by Moodley et al. identifies a potential source of stemlike cells, the human amnion (a membrane that surrounds a fetus and contains the amniotic fluid) for the potential treatment of interstitial lung disease. Considering the abundance of the tissue and ease of isolation, this finding could represent an unrestricted and unlimited supply of a cellular therapy agent.

In this study, human amnion epithelial cells (hAECs) were derived from amnion obtained from placentas that were discarded after normal-term deliveries. The hAECs exhibited lung lineage–specific markers and, in the presence of a specialized medium, differentiated into type II alveolar pneumocytes and produced surfactant proteins, which are important for lung function. When injected into mice whose lungs were injured through bleomycin treatment, these cells localized to the airway alveolar sacs. The cells resided in the airways for prolonged duration without forming tumors and differentiated into functional alveolar type II pneumocytes. Furthermore, lungs of mice injected with hAECs demonstrated reduced inflammation and fibrosis upon exposure to bleomycin. Increased inflammation and fibrosis are central to interstitial lung disease pathogenesis. These studies demonstrate that amnion-derived epithelial cells are a potential source for developing cell-based therapies such as cell transplantation to treat chronic airway diseases. In support of this idea, the use of aminon transplants to reconstruct damaged ocular surfaces is successful and gaining tremendous interest worldwide.

Y. Moodley et al., Human amnion epithelial cell transplantation abrogates lung fibrosis and augments repair. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 182, 643–651 (2010). [Abstract]

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