Mesenchymal Stem Cells have attracted great attention in terms of their use for regenerative medicine. They have been isolated from many tissues such as bone marrow, adipose tissue, fetal blood and liver, synovial membranes, skin, cord blood, amniotic fluid, peripheral blood and the umbilical cord. Research has shown that the marker phenotype, immune features and differentiation potentials are similar to that of MSCs from the adipose tissue and bone marrow. 2 advantages with the use of umbilical cord (UC) as a source of MSCs are their easy collection from either normal vaginal delivery or cesarean section with minimum invasion and ethical issues that also lowers their cost of usage (Rossetti and team, Asian Pac J Reprod, 2019).
A few examples of the magic of these cells are listed below:
A case report published in 2013 reported the promise of using UC-MSCs for multiple sclerosis (MS) that is yet to see treatments that target axonal degeneration seen in the disease. A patient with an initial MS disease course diagnosed as aggressive was administered allogenic UC-MSCs along with autologous bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells over 4 years. There were no severe adverse reactions while the inflammation was suppressed as well as no clinical relapses or new MRI lesions. Many MRI lesions were resolved and the patient could walk unaided for > 500 meters thus, paving the way for treatment using MSCs for this debilitating condition (Hou et al, Cell adhesion & migration, 2013).
Zhang and team (2018) tested the injection of UC-MSCs in the tail of a rat model of endometrial injury. After 8 days of administering the stem cells, the overall morphology of the endometrium and embryo implantation rates showed conspicuous improvements. There was an increase in markers such as the endometrial stromal marker vimentin and epithelial marker cytokeratin-19 (CK-19) showing the ability of these cells to heal the damaged tissue. The overall fibrosis was also reduced as seen by lowered fibrosis markers such as -smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β. The levels of cytokines associated with inflammation such as interferon (IFN)-γ, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and interleukin (IL)-2 were also lowered. Thus, the use of UC-MSCs is promising to repair the endometrial injury that is associated with conditions such as amenorrhea and infertility in females.
In another article published in 2018, scientists Chang and team reported the repairing of damaged cartilage in mice treated with a chemical called monosodium iodoacetate (MIA) by UC-MSCs. The transplantation of the stem cells aided in repair and regeneration of cartilage damaged by MIA according to the International Cartilage Repair Society score: 3.8 in the MIA group vs. 10.2 in the HUCMSC-treated group) while the conditioned medium from the UC-MSCs inhibited apoptosis in the cartilage by targeting caspase 3: a vital molecule in apoptosis. The movement impairment was boosted from 30% on day 7 to 115% on day 14 thus showing the healing of cartilage by UC-MSCs: this becomes significant given that osteoarthritis that arises due to cartilage damage is the fourth most common cause of hospitalization and the most common cause of total knee and hip joint replacement surgeries!
Thus, these studies and many more show the safety and efficacy of stem cells isolated from the umbilical cord (considered “waste” and discarded) to emerge as an avenue of treating diseases that are yet to see effective curative approaches.
Rossetti D, Di Angelo Antonio S, Lukanović D, Kunic T, Certelli C, Vascone C, Sleiman Z. Human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells: Current trends and future perspectives. Asian Pac J Reprod 2019;8:93-101.
Hou, Z. L., Liu, Y., Mao, X. H., Wei, C. Y., Meng, M. Y., Liu, Y. H., Zhuyun Yang, Z., Zhu, H., Short, M., Bernard, C., & Xiao, Z. C. (2013). Transplantation of umbilical cord and bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells in a patient with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Cell adhesion & migration, 7(5), 404–407.
Zhang, L., Li, Y., Guan, C. et al. Therapeutic effect of human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells on injured rat endometrium during its chronic phase. Stem Cell Res Ther 9, 36 (2018).
Chang, Y. H., Wu, K. C., Liu, H. W., Chu, T. Y., & Ding, D. C. (2018). Human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells reduce monosodium iodoacetate-induced apoptosis in cartilage. Cijiyixuezazhi = Tzu-chi medical journal, 30(2), 71–80.