Wharton’s jelly, the insulating gelatin-like material that protects the vessels of the umbilical cord, was first discovered and named after English physician and anatomist Thomas Wharton in 1656. Its true potential may soon be known.
A growing body of research is now beginning to reveal that stem cells collected from Wharton’s jelly in the umbilical cord may have potential advantages compared to stem cells collected from other sources, such as bone marrow and drawn blood.
Collection of the umbilical cord tissue, where Wharton’s jelly is found, is a quick procedure performed following a baby’s birth, after the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. Collecting the cord blood and cord tissue stem cells does not have the side effects associated with the collection of other types of stem cells, like bone marrow. Typically, the umbilical cord is discarded as medical waste, but here are three reasons why it shouldn’t be:
- Younger is better: Evidence suggests that stem cells are impacted by donor age and certain chronic health conditions. So, as the stem cell source grows older, stem cell effectiveness may decrease in regenerative medicine applications. Since stem cells from cord blood and cord tissue are collected at birth, they have not been affected by these factors yet. This makes them a highly desirable resource for transplantation, and are currently in research to treat various types of health problems.
- Quality & Quantity: Most clinical trials with stem cells today require a large number of cells. In side-by-side comparisons, Wharton’s jelly from cord tissue was shown to be one of the best sources of stem cells compared to bone marrow, due to their abundance, ease of isolation, and cell division ability. In fact, Wharton’s jelly stem cells were shown to have the highest cell division capacity among the stem cells tested from bone marrow, fat tissue and cord tissue.
- Less Prone to Rejection – Wharton’s jelly has less stringent immune matching criteria and patients that receive this type of stem cell from a donor may not need long-term immunosuppression. This is probably because these cells are so young and new that they haven’t developed features that can be recognized and attacked by the patient’s immune system. Case studies and clinical trials with the stem cells from Wharton’s jelly have reported positive safety profiles and there is eager anticipation to extend these findings to larger studies evaluating efficacy.
Stem cells from cord tissue may be a flexible and useful alternative to bone marrow and other adult stem cells. They present tremendous potential as a versatile and potent stem cell resource for regenerative medicine.