Previously discarded as medical waste, umbilical cord blood and cord tissue are now regarded as very valuable medical resources. The stem cells found in cord blood are already used to treat almost 80 different illnesses including some forms of cancer, immune system disorders, blood disorders and metabolic disorders.
Recent research has shown that the stem cells found in cord blood and cord tissue may be useful in the treatment of many more medical conditions including liver failure, cystic fibrosis, spinal injuries, stroke, dementia, myocardial infarction, pulmonary fibrosis, Parkinson’s diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and multiple sclerosis (Tanna & Sachan, 2015; Volarevic, Nurkovic, Arsenijevic & Stojkovic, 2014; Dazzi & Horwood, 2015; Ramsden et al., 2013; Dasari, 2014)
Researchers have also realised that more components from the umbilical cord contain therapeutic potential. One of those components is a substance known as Wharton’s jelly. This article will explain what umbilical cord Wharton’s jelly is and how the stem cells it contains may be useful for treating various medical conditions.
What is Wharton’s Jelly?
Wharton’s jelly is a gelatinous substance found in the umbilical cord and the human eyeball. Wharton’s jelly mostly contains —
- Mucopolysaccharides, compounds that make up connective tissue
- Fibroblasts, cells that make up the structural framework for connective tissue in humans
- Macrophages, cells that protect the body from harmful foreign particles
The primary role of Wharton’s jelly is to protect umbilical cord blood vessels.
After the birth of a child, Wharton’s jelly also acts as a physiological clamp on the umbilical cord. When the baby is born, the structure of Wharton’s jelly changes as a result of the change in temperature. The change in structure acts like a clamping action on the umbilical cord, slowing the flow of blood. This clamping action usually occurs approximately 5 minutes after the birth of the child.
Wharton’s jelly contains stem cell genes that can be extracted and cultured to make more stem cells and differentiated cells. Scientists have already managed to extract cells from Wharton’s jelly and use them to make various adult cells, including neural cells (Mitchell et al., 2003). The cells created from Wharton’s peppy may be very useful in the treatment of many diseases and illnesses.
Research into Umbilical Cord Wharton’s Jelly Stem Cells
A research paper published in 2015 highlights the value of Wharton jelly as a source of mesenchymal stem cells (Watson et al., 2015). The paper indicates that cryopreservation of both the umbilical cord blood and Wharton’s jelly may be worthwhile, to access many new forms of treatment.
The MSCs generated by Wharton’s jelly are particularly useful because they are in an early embryologic phase, which makes them more adaptable for differentiation and transplantation.
Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent stem cells that can differentiate into a number of other cell types including —
- Chondrocytes (cartilage cells)
- Osteoblasts (bone cells)
- Myocytes (muscle cells)
- Adipocytes (fat cells)
- Hepatocytes (Liver cells)
- Neurones (brain cells) and
- Cardiomyocytes (heart cells).
MSCs also have the capacity to migrate to sites of inflammation and exert anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive capabilities (Kim & Cho, 2013).
MSCs are the focus of many clinical trials and are thought to be particularly useful in a field of research known as regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine seeks to develop treatments that replace or regenerate human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function. Stem cells that are capable of generating new cells are particularly useful for regenerating calls and tissue.
Some of the recent discoveries made using Wharton’s jelly stem cells include:
- Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells Safe and Effective in Acute Myocardial Infarction
Researchers found that Wharton’s Jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells are a safe and effective treatment for acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks) (PrNewswire, 2015)
- Human Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells promote skin wound healing
Researchers found that WJ-MSCs increased normal skin fibroblast proliferation and migration, promoting wound healing (Arno et al., 2014)
- Scientists grow artificial skin using umbilical cord stem cells
Spanish scientists, from the Tissue Engineering Research Group, from the Dept. of Histology at the University of Granada managed to grow artificial skin from WJ-MSCs (Stemcelldigest.com, 2013)
- Scientists have found that WJ-MSCs can improve recovery in brain-damaged mice
Scientists have already used Wharton Jelly-derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells to treat brain damage in mice effectively (Cheng et al., 2015).
Breakthroughs are occurring at a rapid pace and WJ-MSCs have a great deal of potential.
Arno, A., Amini-Nik, S., Blit, P., Al-Shehab, M., Belo, C., & Herer, E. et al. (2014). Human Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells promote skin wound healing through paracrine signaling. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 5(1), 28. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/scrt417
Cheng, T., Yang, B., Li, D., Ma, S., Tian, Y., & Qu, R. et al. (2015). Wharton’s Jelly Transplantation Improves Neurologic Function in a Rat Model of Traumatic Brain Injury. Cellular And Molecular Neurobiology, 35(5), 641-649. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10571-015-0159-9
Dasari, V. (2014). Mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of spinal cord injuries: A review. World Journal Of Stem Cells, 6(2), 120. http://dx.doi.org/10.4252/wjsc.v6.i2.120
Dazzi, F., & Horwood, N. (2015). Potential of mesenchymal stem cell therapy. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 19 October 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906466
Kim, N., & Cho, S. (2013). Clinical applications of mesenchymal stem cells. Korean J Intern Med, 28(4), 387. http://dx.doi.org/10.3904/kjim.2013.28.4.387
Mitchell, K., Weiss, M., Mitchell, B., Martin, P., Davis, D., & Morales, L. et al. (2003). Matrix Cells from Wharton’s Jelly Form Neurons and Glia. STEM CELLS, 21(1), 50-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1634/stemcells.21-1-50
PrNewswire,. (2015). Beike Biotechnology Publishes New Research Finding Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells Safe and Effective in Acute Myocardial Infarction. Prnewswire.com. Retrieved 16 November 2015, from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/beike-biotechnology-publishes-new-research-finding-adult-mesenchymal-stem-cells-safe-and-effective-in-acute-myocardial-infarction-300116154.html
Ramsden, C., Powner, M., Carr, A., Smart, M., da Cruz, L., & Coffey, P. (2013). Stem cells in retinal regeneration: past, present and future. Development, 140(12), 2576-2585. http://dx.doi.org/10.1242/dev.092270
Stemcelldigest.com,. (2013). Scientists grow artificial skin using stem cells from the umbilical cord | Stem Cell News Digest. Stemcellnewsdigest.com. Retrieved 16 November 2015, from http://www.stemcellnewsdigest.com/medical-news-2/scientists-grow-artificial-skin-using-stem-cells-from-the-umbilical-cord/
Tanna, T., & Sachan, V. (2015). Mesenchymal stem cells: potential in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 19 October 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25248677
Volarevic, V., Nurkovic, J., Arsenijevic, N., & Stojkovic, M. (2014). Concise Review: Therapeutic Potential of Mesenchymal Stem Cells for the Treatment of Acute Liver Failure and Cirrhosis. STEM CELLS, 32(11), 2818-2823. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/stem.1818
Verter, D. (2015). Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood. Parentsguidecordblood.org. Retrieved 26 October 2015, from http://parentsguidecordblood.org/diseases.php#standard
Watson, N., Divers, R., Kedar, R., Mehindru, A., Mehindru, A., Borlongan, M., & Borlongan, C. (2015). Discarded Wharton jelly of the human umbilical cord: a viable source for mesenchymal stromal cells. Cytotherapy, 17(1), 18-24. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcyt.2014.08.009