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New essential findings on stem cell therapy at MedUni Vienna

(Vienna, 15 June 2010) The scientific world sees great potential in the use of human stem cells for treating particularly hard to cure diseases. While at many universities the stem cells from embryos are often used for basic research in this field, the team headed by Markus Hengstschläger recently showed that the stem cells of amniotic fluid have similar potential. Now with these amniotic fluid stem cells, it has also been possible to create kidney cells which, in the future, will enable completely new therapeutic approaches.

The regeneration of damaged organs from healthy human cells is an area which is still in the basic research stage but will play a key role for future therapeutic approaches. To obtain human stem cells, however, embryos are also often used which are destroyed in this process.  This is ethically controversial and prohibited in Austria, and these can also develop into tumour cells. Alternatively, stem cells from adults are also used, but these are hard to reproduce efficiently.

At MedUni Vienna the team of Univ. Prof. Mag. Dr. Markus Hengstschläger, Head of the Institute of Medical Genetics, has already studied the possibilities of extracting stem cells from human amniotic fluid and only recently showed that these cells have similarly promising potential as embryonic stem cells and also do not tend towards tumour formation. Now as part of the EU-sponsored research project KIDSTEM, tests on mice kidneys have shown that amniotic fluid stem cells also have the potential to develop into certain kidney cells which can take on supporting functions in the formation and regeneration of kidney structures. This research has also been able to show that the enzyme mTOR is a key regulator of this kidney cell differentiation.

In the future this discovery may benefit countless patients suffering from chronic kidney diseases, which often are the consequence of congenital disorders, chronic infections, autoimmune diseases, diabetes or high blood pressure and may lead to complete kidney failure. Here common forms of treatment such as dialysis have worse prognoses for a long life for patients, while kidney transplants usually fail because of the lack of suitable donor kidneys. With the recent findings of Hengstschläger and his team it would now be possible to maintain kidney function using stem cell therapy until a transplant can be successfully carried out. This option would be of great significance in particular for the treatment of babies whose kidney failure is associated with certain congenital genetic diseases.

Hengstschläger says on the prospects for the future: "There is still a very long way to go until stem cell therapies are used with kidney diseases, but a first basic scientific step has been taken."

Siegel N., Rosner M., Unbekandt M., Fuchs C., Slabina N., Dolznig H., Davies J.A., Lubec G., Hengstschläger M.: Contribution of human amniotic fluid stem cells to renal tissue formation depends on mTOR. Human Molecular Genetics, doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddq236 published on June 11, 2010