Public Release:  Umbilical cord could be new source of plentiful stem cells, say Pitt researchers

Banking cords, as well as cord blood, may be invaluable

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 17 - Stem cells that could one day provide therapeutic options for muscle and bone disorders can be easily harvested from the tissue of the umbilical cord, just as the blood that goes through it provides precursor cells to treat some blood disorders, said University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers in the online version of the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.

Umbilical cord tissue cells can be expanded to greater number, are remarkably stable and might not trigger strong immune responses, said senior investigator Bridget M. Deasy, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Pitt School of Medicine. The cells are obtained from the gelatinous material in the cord known as Wharton's jelly and from blood vessel walls.

"Our experiments indicate also that at least 21 million stem cells, and possibly as many as 500 million, could be banked from a single umbilical cord after the birth of a baby," she noted. "So, the cord could become an accessible source of a multitude of stem cells that overcomes many of the restrictions, such as limited quantity as well as donor age and donor sex issues, that come with other adult stem cell populations."

Dr. Deasy and her team analyzed sections of two-foot-long human umbilical cords that were donated for research, looking for cells in Wharton's jelly and blood vessel walls that displayed the characteristic protein markers found in stem cells derived from other sources. The researchers then sought to find the best way to isolate the stem cells from the cords, and tested them in the lab to confirm their ability to produce specialized cells, such as bone and cartilage, while retaining their invaluable ability to renew themselves.

To build on these findings, the team will test the umbilical cord stem cells in animal models of cartilage and bone repair, as well as muscle regeneration.

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Co-authors of the paper include lead investigator Rebecca C. Schugar, of Pitt's Stem Cell Research Center, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and the Center for Cardiovascular Research, Washington University School of Medicine; Steven M. Chirieleison, Yuko Askew, M.D., Ph.D., Jordan J. Nance, and Joshua M. Evron, all of the Pitt Stem Cell Research Center; Kristin E. Wescoe, Benjamin T. Schmidt, both of Pitt's Department of Bioengineering; and Bruno Peault, Ph.D., of the University of California-Los Angeles and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a joint effort of Pitt and UPMC.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Research and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to preliminary data for fiscal year 2008. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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