Does Cord Blood Have Mesenchymal Stem Cells?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

In this Age of Information, with a few taps across a computer keyboard, patients can find out so much about stem cells and how they are used in a variety of diagnoses. The problem this presents is that the Internet is so inundated with conflicting information, it can be hard to figure out what’s real and what’s make-believe, particularly when it comes to valid sources of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). This is why it’s so important that physicians providing stem cell treatments are a reputable source for their patients. If the physician’s own primary source of stem cell information is a vendor selling him or her a product, however, the patient is better off scouring the Internet for more-reliable sources. Why?

We’re seeing cord blood vendors making claims that their products contain mesenchymal stem cells. So does cord blood have mesenchymal stem cells or doesn’t it? How can the vendor claim one thing and our testing show something entirely different? We’ll leave you to process that for a bit, but, for now, let’s take a look at the results of some of the published scientific literature.

What the Literature Says About MSCs and Cord Blood

First, there are, in fact, MSCs found in umbilical cord blood—but as you will see from the three studies referenced in the brief video above, they are few in number and the chances of successful isolation of MSCs from cord blood is very low. Here are what each of those studies concluded:

  • The first paper (Secco et al.) looked at 10 matched umbilical cord blood (UCB) and umbilical cord (UC) samples. MSCs were only able to be cultured from 1 (10% recovery) UCB sample.
  • The second paper (Sibov et al.) plated 119 UCB units and found that only 11 units contained MSCs (<10% recovery).
  • The third paper (Divya et al.) plated 45 UCB samples, and 9 samples generated MSCs (20% recovery).

So in the first two studies, they got NOn MSCs from cord blood about 90% of the time. The third fared a little better, recovering NO MSCs from cord blood 80% of the time. So why so few MSCs in cord blood, and if they aren’t in the UCB, where are they? Let me explain.

Does Cord Blood Have Mesenchymal Stem cells? No,They’re in the Wharton’s Jelly

The umbilical cord houses three vessels (one vein and two arteries), which tunnel down the middle of the cord. The cord blood lives inside of the veins and artery. Inside the umbilical cord, these vessels are embedded in and supported by a mucous-like substance called Wharton’s jelly. It’s not difficult to understand why we’re finding so few MSCs in cord blood. The MSCs in the umbilical cord don’t generally live in the cord blood; reliable sources of umbilical cord MSCs are found in the Wharton’s jelly.

Now, don’t get too excited. Just knowing where MSCs are in the umbilical cord doesn’t mean we can package up vials of Wharton’s jelly and market them to the masses as live mesenchymal stem cells. It’s just not that easy. The Interventional Orthopedics Foundation has tested many different birth-tissue products to date, and they’ve found no viable, or living, MSCs in any of it. Why?

Because by the time it sits around an OB ward and then a processing center and then it’s processed and then it’s cryopreserved and sold through the vendor and then it’s shock-thawed in a doctor’s office —there are simply very few, if any, viable and functional MSCs left. This isn’t just a problem with cord blood stem cell products; we see this with vendors pushing amniotic “stem cell” products in general.

The upshot? So does cord blood have MSCs? Not only is it not a reliable source of MSCs, but processed umbilical cord stem cells in general aren’t reliable sources of living stem cells.

In the world of stem cells, unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of make-believe. If a physician can’t reference reliable research as well as provide outcome data on their own patient treatments, the physician probably doesn’t truly understand the stem cell treatments he or she is providing. If you ask your physician, “Does cord blood have mesenchymal stem cells?” and the physician says yes, that’s a good indication the physician is listening to the vendor selling the cord blood, not the research.

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4 thoughts on “Does Cord Blood Have Mesenchymal Stem Cells?

  1. Dorothea Armstrong

    What about the process where youn own blood is used and is injected into your knee.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Dorothea,
      Yes, using the Platelets and or Stem Cells from your own blood and bone marrow is the best possible course of treatment. Please see: http://www.regenexx.com

  2. Mark Anthony

    Help me differentiate your position that MSCs from Umbilical Cords are not the best source for MSCs. The first study concludes:
    “An important issue in cellular therapy studies is the availability of alternative stem cell sources and the efficacy of isolation techniques to yield a reasonable amount of viable cells that could be successfully expanded. Despite the advantages of HSC from UCB in hematopoietic reconstitution [13, [14]–15], results from the present study demonstrated that UC, and not UCB, is the best choice for isolating MSCs for future applications. Until very recently, BM has been considered the main source of MSCs. Panepucci et al. demonstrated that MSCs derived from UC and BM are highly similar at the transcriptional level, reinforcing the usefulness of UC from neonates [34].

    In short, based on the present results and other studies, we believe that UC is the easiest obtainable biological source of MSCs.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1634/stemcells.2007-0381/full

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      You’re confusing culture expansion studies with a fresh prep. Meaning, these studies show a failure of MSC CULTURE from umbilical cords about 8-9 times out of 10. For comparison, 99% of bone marrow from an adult will form colonies in culture and expand to bigger numbers. In the 1-2 cords out of 10 that do yield MSCs, this is a tiny number that over weeks can be grown to a clinically relevant number. Hence, if you’re culturing cells (which is illegal for clinical use in the US), you can find some MSCs in a very few cords and grow them to bigger numbers. If you’re using either cord blood or bone marrow fresh (i.e. no culture expansion), then there’s going to be a high chance that the cord blood sample contains no measurable MSCs while almost all adult bone marrow will contain a clinically usable number of MSCs.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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