Bioengineering of Fetal Skin: Differentiation of Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells into Keratinocytes

Fetal Diagn Ther. 2020;47(3):198-204. doi: 10.1159/000502181. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


Purpose: Open fetal spina bifida repair has become a novel clinical standard of care. In very large spina bifida lesions, the skin defect cannot be covered primarily, asking for alternative solutions. We hypothesize that amniotic fluid stem cells (AFSC) could be differentiated into keratinocytes that could then be used to bioengineer autologous skin usable for in utero back coverage.

Methods: To obtain human AFSC, amniotic fluid samples obtained from fetal surgeries were subjected to immunoselection for c-kit. C-kit-positive samples and controls were cultured with the additives morphogenetic protein 4 and vitamin C to induce differentiation towards keratinocytes. This process was monitored by measuring the expression of K8 and K14 via immunohistochemical staining, flow cytometry, and polymerase chain reaction.

Results: After immunoselection and expansion, most cells were positive for K8, but none for K14. After completion of the differentiation protocol, cell colonies with keratinocyte-like appearance could be observed, but cells remained positive for K8 and negative for K14, indicating failed differentiation into keratinocytes.

Conclusions: Culturing of keratinocyte-like cells from AFSC, harvested intraoperatively, was not feasible in this setting. The reasons for failure must be investigated and eliminated, as bioengineering of fetal skin for clinical use during fetal surgery for spina bifida remains an attractive goal.

Keywords: Amniocytes; Amniotic fluid; Fetal surgery; Human spina bifida; Keratinocytes; Myelomeningocele; Stem cells; Tissue engineering.

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid / cytology*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / cytology*
  • Skin
  • Spina Bifida Cystica / surgery
  • Tissue Engineering*