This hopeful news for transplant medicine is reported in the online edition of the journal Experimental Neurology, published by Elsevier.
Researchers transplanted umbilical cord matrix stem cells from a pig into the brain of a live rat, and for reasons they as yet do not understood, the recipient's immune system did not detect nor reject the foreign cells, which survived for more than six weeks. No drugs were used to suppress the immune response.
A subset of the transplanted stem cells responded to the chemical environment of the brain and began to develop as nervous system cells. This transition of cell type in a living animal is the first indication that umbilical cord matrix stem cells could be useful therapeutically.
"Specifically, the umbilical cord matrix cell source may offer us a basis for treating nervous system disorders like Parkinson's disease," said neuroscientist Mark Weiss, lead investigator and first author of the study.
Developing effective treatments for Parkinson's and other nervous system disorders depends on scientists identifying a source of neural progenitor cells that can be transplanted without complications.
"Transplantation of Porcine Umbilical Cord Matrix Cells into the Rat Brain" is co-authored with veterinary and animal science researchers Kathy Mitchell, J.E. Hix, S. Medicetty, S.Z. El-Zarkouny, David Grieger and Deryl Troyer.
"We are reporting three lines of evidence indicating that stem cells from the umbilical cord matrix do not trigger an immune system response when they are transplanted across species," said Weiss. "We do not understand yet what enables the donor UCM cells to exist below the radar of the recipient's immune system," he added.