Research into stem cell-based therapies has increased in recent years due to observations that these types of cells can provide new avenues for treatment where other treatment options are limited. Though bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells have been the gold standard of stem cell-based therapies, there is mounting evidence that umbilical cord stem cells may offer some advantages over bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, as well as other popular stem cell types, such as adipose tissue, periodontal ligament, and dental pulp. In a recent review in Tissue Engineering, Reine El Omar and colleagues describe the state of umbilical cord stem cell research and the potential benefits of using these cells in stem cell therapies.
According to Omar et al., umbilical cord-derived stem cells were once thought of as medical waste. However, they have now been shown to provide advantages over other stem cells in stem cell-based therapies in 3 major ways:
- Umbilical cord stem cells are easier to collect than are other stem cell types. Extracting bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, for instance, is technically difficult and painful for donors. Umbilical cord stem cells can be painlessly collected and banked.
- Stem cells tend to proliferate more than other stem cells types. Other stem cell types have been shown to have limited proliferation and differentiation potential. Umbilical cord stem cells, on the other hand, appear to be more proliferative and differentiate longer.
- Umbilical cord stem cells are associated with less severe immune reactions than are other stem cells types. A critical aspect of the practicality of stem cells is their ability to act as therapeutic agents without causing adverse reactions. When the immune system perceives stem cells as dangerous foreign agents, the immune system can react in dangerous ways that lead to tissue damage and even death. Compared to other types of stem cells, umbilical cord stem cells appear to be associated with less severe immune reactions.
While efficacy is important for stem cell-based therapies, safety is perhaps more critical. Thus, research into how stem cells can be used therapeutically must focus not only on what therapeutic impact these cells can have but also what risks these cells pose. Future research will help to determine the safest cells to use and how those cells can best be incorporated to achieve their therapeutic goals.
Learn more about stem cell treatments here.