Umbilical Cord Stem Cells Work to Restore Immune System Balance in Early Study

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immune system and stem cells

Damaging immune system defects seen in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be repaired using a simple stem cell approach, according to a new study by researchers in China and the U.S.

The study, “Umbilical Cord-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Reversed The Suppressive Deficiency Of T Regulatory Cells From Peripheral Blood Of Patients With Multiple Sclerosis In A Co-Culture – A Preliminary Study,” was published in the journal Oncotarget.

Although the origin of MS remains elusive, immune system attacks against myelin is a known hallmark of the disease. In MS patients, immune system cells called T-cells penetrate the brain and react against the myelin coating that protects and supports neurons. Essentially, the T-cells’ activity is  unregulated, something usually mediated by T regulatory cells (Tregs), and contributes to their abnormal aggressiveness.

One possible way to restore T-cell regulation is by using mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs (stem cells are immature cells that can become any type of cell in the body). MSCs are a type of stem cell found in the bone marrow, and have been shown to stimulate the presence of Tregs, thereby controlling the activity of T-cells.

The human umbilical cord has stem cells equivalent to MSCs, called UC-MSCs — these cells are more stable, induce lower immune responses, and have higher expansion ability compared to MSCs.

To understand whether these umbilical cord stem cells could restore the regulation of the immune system in MS, researchers cultured UC-MSCs together with immune system cells present in the blood of MS patients and healthy subjects.

UC-MSCs were obtained from discarded human umbilical cords, which offer an abundant and noninvasive source of these cells, and the blood cells from 12 relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) patients (mean age 53.75) and 10 healthy donors (mean age 28.38).

Researchers observed that the presence of UC-MSCs significantly increased the number of Tregs among resting T-cells from the MS patients. UC-MSCs were also able to restore the regulatory activity of Tregs, probably by stimulating the production of specific proteins, called cytokines, that control T-cell activity.

These results, overall, demonstrated that umbilical cord stem cells can effectively reduce abnormal immune system activity in MS.

“We report for the first time that the intrinsic Treg defect in MS can be repaired in vitro using a UC-MSC-mediated immune modulation,” the researchers concluded. “Our studies provide valuable preliminary in vitro data to support the development of functionally normalized Tregs … from individual patients with autoimmune diseases using a simple UC-MSC-based priming approach and may offer new therapeutic treatments for MS and other autoimmune diseases.”

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Joana brings more than 8 years of academic research and experience as well as Scientific writing and editing to her role as a Science and Research writer. She also served as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology in Coimbra, Portugal, where she also received her PhD in Health Science and Technologies, with a specialty in Molecular and Cellular Biology.
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16 comments

  1. Hallie Dee says:

    Would stem cells from the umbilicord of a MS patients’ child/grandchild prove more effective? Like other commenters, I am interested to know if the treatment would work for Secondry Progressive MS?

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Wade! Have you checked out the author’s response to these comments? The contact info she posted may help you get answers.

  2. Asfa Ahmad says:

    Hello. A very interesting article. My brother has secondary progressive MS. 11 years ago when my son was born, we stored stem cells from the cord in the hope that one day some treatment would become available. Please can you advise how we can take this forward. Many thanks

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Asfa. Have you seen Joana’s response in this comment thread? She has posted some contact info that may help you with your decision. We hope for the best for your brother!

  3. jo Tanenbaum says:

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    When ancient people used crooks and canes, it was for practical reasons. Over the years, the cane evolved from a form of physical support and protection to a symbol of authority, dignity, and wealth, where a person’s status could be determined by the quality and materials of his walking cane. Canes were a symbol of power, as in a king’s scepter or a bishop’s pastoral staff, and to this day serve as fashion statements—transforming the lowly walking stick from necessary aid to trendy accessory.
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    About the Author: Jo has MS, is a retired teacher of French and lives it up with her family and a staff in Los Angeles, CA

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Jo! Make sure you check out Joana’s response to the comments on this same thread. She lists some contact info that would be very useful.

  4. Joana Fernandes, PhDJoana Fernandes, PhD says:

    Hello everyone,

    Unfortunately, although I wrote the article about that study using umbilical cord stem cells as a potential treatment for MS, I have no contact with the study’s authors or am I myself a researcher anymore.

    However, I think you can try to contact the senior author of the study asking for more information about this procedure and whether they are planning to open a trial for patients.

    His contact is tqu@uic.edu. On his page (http://www.psych.uic.edu/154-about-us/directory/faculty/276-tingyu-qu) at the University of Illinois there is also a phone number – (312) 355-1786).

    Kindest regards,

    Joana Fernandes

  5. Danieal Lovato says:

    I’m very interested in any treatment that would help me be more mobile. I’m 36 years old and was diagnosed 2009 and I’ve been in a wheelchair since 2013 and would love to have my freedom back to live life and share exciting times with my 16 year old daughter and 3 year old daughter.

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