Stem cells can heal the body, promote recovery, and offer an enormous amount of therapeutic potential. Cord blood stem cell therapy is being investigated in patients for regenerative medicine applications in FDA-regulated clinical studies for conditions such as:
- Cerebral palsy
- Pediatric stroke
- Traumatic brain injury
- Acquired Hearing Loss
In addition to current, FDA-regulated clinical trials, the same types of stem cells that are found in cord blood and cord tissue are being used in early-stage research. Although researchers can’t say what these studies will yield, newborn stem cells are demonstrating a growing range of potential uses across a variety of therapeutic areas.
Spinal Cord Injury
A study published in June 2010 in the journal Spine, found that newborn cord blood stem cells can improve the neurologic function of rats after an acute spinal cord injury. The rats treated in the study experienced a significantly improved recovery of locomotor function (the ability to move from place to place) over a six-week period compared to untreated rats. In addition, six weeks after treatment, the injured area was noticeably smaller in the treated animals than in the untreated animals. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that supports the therapeutic potential of cord blood stem cells for nerve repair.
Research shows that mesenchymal stem cells from cord blood may significantly reduce lung injury and inflammation in infants suffering from bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD is a lung disease that usually occurs in premature infants who receive ventilator support and oxygen supplementation to treat respiratory distress. The damage associated with BPD can lead to long-term complications and even death. Recent animal studies suggest that newborn stem cells may offer a treatment option.15
Mesenchymal stem cells found in cord tissue are being evaluated in animal studies for their ability to treat ishemic stroke, a condition that occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked. Animals treated with cord tissue stem cells experienced a decrease in the size of injury, with increased blood flow to the affected area. Treated animals also experienced increased motor control, likely due to the stem cells’ ability to secrete factors that promote blood flow and encourage the brain’s natural healing process.
Early laboratory studies suggest that mesenchymal stem cells from cord tissue can help improve motor function in animals afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. One study indicated that the stem cells reduced some functional effects of the disease, making stem cell treatment a potential therapeutic strategy.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by insoluble protein deposits in the brain called beta amyloids. A study evaluating the effect of human cord blood mesenchymal stem cells on Alzheimer’s disease in mice showed a marked reduction in beta amyloids, as the stem cells actively migrated to the affected parts of the brain. These results have led to human clinical trials.
Peripheral Artery Occlusive Disease
Peripheral artery occlusive disease, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs, can result in decreased blood flow to the limbs, which could result in pain, wounds that don’t heal properly, and a noticeable change in skin color. Animal studies using stem cells from cord blood show promising results in the creation of new blood vessels and restoring blood flow. In animals, limbs injected with cord blood stem cells experienced an increase in the number and density of blood vessels over the limbs that weren’t injected.
Early laboratory studies evaluating the effects of mesenchymal stem cells from cord blood on liver cirrhosis showed significant improvements in function after infusion. Liver cirrhosis is characterized by tissue scarring, fluid retention, and risk of infection. Results of stem cell infusion showed increased generation of glucose and insulin, which improves liver function.
According to laboratory research conducted at the University Hospital of Munich in 2008, umbilical cord blood may help repair defective heart valves in infants. In the study, stem cells were seeded onto eight heart valve scaffolds constructed of a biodegradable material. The bio-engineered valves acted similarly to natural heart valves when they were tested for normal blood flow and pressure. Over time, the scaffolds dissolved, leaving behind fully formed valves made from the stem cells.
In March 2010, researchers at Columbia University made significant progress in an area of regenerative medicine focusing on bone repair. They report that they created a tissue-engineered jaw bone using mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow. These stem cells, which are also found in cord blood and tissue, naturally generate connective tissue such as bone and cartilage, making bone regeneration one of the most investigated therapeutic areas for mesenchymal stem cells today. These studies demonstrate the possibilities of bringing tissue-engineered bone to the operating room. A number of global institutions are testing tissue-engineered bones from a variety of mesenchymal stem cell sources for safety and feasibility.
Early studies are investigating the effect of human cord blood stem cells on wound healing in diabetic mice. Slow wound healing in diabetics may be caused by poor circulation, nerve damage, or complications with the immune system. Results of these animal studies show a significantly accelerated healing process in the mice that were injected with cord blood stem cells, especially those injected directly into the wound. Researchers also found, as the wound healed, the number of newly formed blood vessels increased in the mice that received the cord blood.
Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain in the joints, is triggered by an increase in the number of certain cells in the joints. Laboratory studies using mesenchymal stem cells derived from cord tissue were able to slow down the increase of these cells in the joints and suppress their inflammatory effects. Researchers note that injecting cord tissue MSCs in mice reduced the severity of the disease on a whole.