NBC’s Today Show1 recently featured an exciting new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine2 investigating the potential for a protein found in the plasma of umbilical cord blood to aid older mice with memory and learning.
About the Study
As we age, our memories naturally begin to fade. Similarly, mice also display certain behavior as they get older that shows their bodies and mind experience similar decline. For this study, blood was collected and plasma was isolated from (both young and elderly) adults, as well as from cord blood, and injected into older mice. The plasma from cord blood had positive benefits in memory and learning, so researchers ran a series of experiments and discovered that it was a specific protein enriched within the cord blood plasma, called TIMP2, that was linked to improvements in memory function.
These researchers monitored the time it took for mice to navigate a maze they had already been through in the past. Stanford University School of Medicine neuroscientist Joseph Castellano, says, “It is similar to observing a person try to navigate through a crowded garage to locate their parked car. Before being treated, their performance during the maze test ‘wasn’t very impressive.’ It took them a long time to learn and remember the location of the escape hole, and some didn’t manage at all. But after cord plasma treatment, both the time (it took to) find it, the rate at which they’d find it, and the fact that they do find it was improved and changing.”3
The injection of TIMP2 alone (without plasma) also conferred improvement in memory, signaling the protein was sufficient to elicit cognitive benefits.
What Are the Next Steps?
Researchers have no indication that a similar approach, administering plasma from cord blood to older humans, would work. However, if the researchers are right about their conclusion that proteins in the cord blood plasma help repair the part of the brain called the hippocampus that’s responsible for converting experiences into long-term memory in mice, it may prove to be beneficial for aging humans in the future. And, it may be especially beneficial to people who suffer from age-related learning and memory decline.4 More studies are needed; however, the preliminary research holds great promise for cord blood plasma used as regenerative medicine for age-related effects on memory and learning. Although this does not apply to cord blood as it is currently being stored, it is exciting as it provides additional insight into the regenerative potential of cord blood.
*Disclaimer: It is standard practice among cord blood banks to reduce the plasma content of a cord blood unit prior to storage.
- Castellano JM, Mosher KI, Abbey RJ, et al. Human umbilical cord plasma proteins revitalize hippocampal function in aged mice. Nature. 2017 Apr 27;544(7651):488-492. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v544/n7651/full/nature22067.html
- NPR heard on All things Considered by Rae Ellen Bichell on April 19, 2017 1:03 pm ET, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/04/19/523975844/human-umbilical-cord-blood-helps-aging-mice-remember-study-finds