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Stem Cells. 1997;15 Suppl 1:79-92; discussion 93.

Transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells in utero.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of Nevada, Reno, USA.


Hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation in children and adults with congenital lymphohematopoietic disorders is limited by donor availability, graft failure, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and delayed immunological reconstitution. These problems may be circumvented by transplanting the patient before birth. Prenatal cellular therapy for the treatment of congenital diseases has tremendous theoretical appeal. Potential advantages of prenatal transplantation include: A) fetal immunologic immaturity and the potential for induction of donor-specific tolerance; B) available space in the developing bone marrow for engraftment of donor cells; C) the sterile, protective, fetal environment which provides isolation from environmental pathogens, and D) prevention of clinical manifestations of the disease. Normal hematopoietic and immunologic development during ontogeny creates a "window of opportunity" during which events favor the engraftment of transplanted allogeneic (and xenogeneic) HSC and their proliferation. This is a period in which the fetus is immunologically naive and thus incapable of rejecting the foreign HSC, and the expanding bone marrow spaces allow homing and engraftment of HSC without the need for myeloablation. Experiments in sheep have established the optimal age of the recipient, route of donor cell administration, sources of HSC, and other parameters necessary for the successful engraftment and long-term expression of donor HSC. In preclinical studies, transplantation of CD34-enriched or highly purified populations of human adult bone marrow cells in utero resulted in the long-term engraftment and expression of donor HSC without graft failure and GVHD. The strategies developed in allogeneic and xenogeneic fetal sheep models were used to successfully treat human fetuses with X-linked recessive severe combined immunodeficiency.

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