With the growing realization that stem cells can help countless patients suffering from various diseases and injuries has come more research into how stem cells can best be used for these purposes. The questions not only involve which patients can benefit and how, but also which types of stem cells are useful and for what purposes, and how each beneficial stem cell type can be best incorporated into different therapeutic approaches. A new publication in Stem Cells and Development covers the specific advantages of stem cells that are derived from human Wharton’s jelly, which comes from the umbilical cord.
Mesenchymal stem cells are often used for clinical purposes, and the gold standard tissue for isolating mesenchymal stem cells has been bone marrow tissue. A distinct advantage of human Wharton’s jelly-derived stem cells over bone marrow-derived stem cells is the ease with which they are isolated. Not only is it technically relatively simple to retrieve stem cells from the umbilical cord, but it is less invasive than doing so from the bone marrow.
In the current study, the researchers characterized the best way to isolate the mesenchymal stem cells from the Wharton’s jelly and also compared the stem cells that come from Wharton’s jelly to those that come from the bone marrow. According to their analysis, some of the critical advantages of mesenchymal stem cells deriving from Wharton’s jelly rather than from bone marrow are the relative abundance of genes associated with immune system functioning, cell adhesion, and proliferation. Each of these functions is important for stem cell therapeutic applications, and so having more genes that support these functions s beneficial.
The researchers also observed specific ways in which Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells affect the immune system. Based on their observations, they concluded that these stem cells are attractive candidates for therapies that target diseases of the central nervous system, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophoic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS). Further research will help to clarify the potential of Wharton’s jelly, and more comparative research like that performed in this study will help us understand the best ways to use different stem cells for different therapeutic functions.