The importance of umbilical cord tissue for regenerative medicine

The importance of the proliferative and differentiation potential of mesenchymal stem cells contained in the umbilical cord

Since 1988, the year in which the first stem cell transplant from cord blood was performed to treat a case of Fanconi anemia, the umbilical cord has been the subject of numerous studies and scientific research aimed at demonstrating its great therapeutic potential.

Cord tissue has become the focus of such studies and research about ten years ago: «Umbilical cord tissue has been considered absolutely useless for many years. It was viewed as medical waste. We’ve gathered together all existing evidence to confirm that cryoconservation of the umbilical cord tissue may be of use for further clinical application», says Timur Fatkhudinov, co-author of a study recently published in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

Together with his team of researchers from the RUDN – Department of Histology, Cytology, and Embryology of the Institute of Medicine in Russia – Fatkhudinov highlights the importance of the proliferative and differentiation potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) contained in Wharton’s jelly that envelops and protects the umbilical cord vessels.

Wharton’s jelly is a valuable reservoir of growth factors and contains a significant amount of extracellular matrix components, such as collagen and hyaluronic acid, which contribute to the acceleration of healing processes. Umbilical cord stem cells are very valuable for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering because of their ability to turn into different types of cells (bones, tendons, muscles, cartilage, etc.) and their tissue repair properties.

To date, they have already proven effective in treating spina bifida, complex lower extremity ulcers, as well as for many other disorders including diabetes, ischaemia and osteomyelitis. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced more than 100 clinical trials in which cord MSCs will be used for the treatment of cardiovascular, hepatic and musculoskeletal insufficiencies, as well as for autoimmune and neurological diseases.

The main disadvantage of the umbilical cord as a source of stem cells is its transientness: the collection of cord blood and tissue samples is only possible for a short period immediately after delivery. For this reason, Fatkhudinov is convinced that the ideal solution for this is cryoconservation in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. This process protects all useful components extracted from the umbilical cord through freezing, whose biological functions are restored once defrosted.

The same applies to Nescens Swiss Stem Cell Science, which is convinced that cryopreservation of cord blood as a source of hematopoietic stem cells and, at the same time, of cord tissue as a source of mesenchymal stem cells is the answer to the possible need for autologous transplants or grafts.