Amniotic Fluid Organoids: Unveiling Fetal Development

The innovative concept of obtaining fetal cells from amniotic fluid for research is truly revolutionary, asserts Oren Pleniceanu, lead of the Kidney Research Center at Sheba Medical Center and Tel-Aviv University, specializing in stem cell biology and has been studying organoids evolved from amniotic fluid. Pleniceanu describes the extraction process akin to an uncomplicated biopsy even while acknowledging that specific identification of these cells remains a challenge.

Studies have previously revealed that amniotic fluid consists of fetal cells, providing physicians with the ability to diagnose pre-birth disorders such as Down syndrome or sickle-cell disease through a procedure called amniocentesis, where a sample of the fluid is collected. However, as Mattia Gerli, a stem cell biologist from University College London and a contributor to research recently published in Nature Medicine, points out, most of these cells, approximately 95%, are dead, discarded by the fetus. Yet, their study focused on the minor percentage of living cells within the amniotic fluid.

The task initially involved identifying the types of cells present and using single-cell sequencing to trace their origins. Subsequently, the researchers experimented with a 3D culture, inserting three types of progenitor cells related to kidney, lung, and small intestine to discern if organoids were formed. Paolo De Coppi, a pediatric surgeon from University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and a research coauthor, described the procedure as surprisingly straightforward, merely placing the cells into a gel droplet.

The research was successful. The organoids not only grew but also exhibited characteristics of the tissue from which they originated. An instance from the study revealed that lung organoids developed cilia, beating hair-like structures typical in lungs, within a few weeks.