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Umbilical cord matrix, a rich new stem cell source, study shows

The cushioning material or matrix within the umbilical cord known as Wharton's jelly is a rich and readily available source of primitive stem cells, according to findings by a research team at Kansas State University.

Animal and human umbilical cord matrix cells exhibit the tell-tale characteristics of all stem cells, the capacity to self-renew and to differentiate into multiple cell types.

Researchers Kathy Mitchell, Deryl Troyer, and Mark Weiss of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Duane Davis of the College of Agriculture carried out the studies.

The cells -- called cord matrix stem cells to distinguish them from cord blood cells -- can be obtained in a non-invasive manner from an abundant source of tissue that is typically discarded.

According to Weiss and Troyer, "Umbilical cord matrix cells could provide the scientific and medical research community with a non-controversial and easily attainable source of stem cells for developing treatments for Parkinson's disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries, cancers and other conditions."

A paper, "Matrix cells from Wharton's jelly form neurons and glia," appears Jan. 16 in the on-line version of the journal "Stem Cells."

Among the findings: Wharton's jelly cells from pigs were propagated in the lab for more than a year without losing potency; they can be stored cryogenically and engineered to express foreign proteins.

The cells exhibit telomerase activity, a key indicator of stem cells, and they can be induced to form nerve cells, both neurons and glia, that produce a range of nerve-cell specific traits. Neurons are the nervous system cells that transmit signals; glial cells support the neurons.

On the basis of the encouraging results with animal tissue, the team broadened its investigations to human umbilical cord matrix cells with similar exciting findings -- human umbilical cord matrix cells differentiate into neurons, too.

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Contact: Kathy E. Mitchell
mitchell@vet.ksu.edu
785-532-4825
Kansas State University
16-Jan-2003


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