What are stem cells?

Stem cells have piqued the interest of researchers and medical professionals alike for their potential in treating a wide array of conditions. Among the various types of stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have garnered significant attention due to their unique properties and therapeutic applications. In this article, we will explore mesenchymal stem cells from the umbilical cord, their advantages, and potential uses in medicine.

What are Mesenchymal Stem Cells?

Definition and Characteristics

MSCs are multipotent adult stem cells, meaning they can differentiate into various cell types, including osteoblasts (bone cells), chondrocytes (cartilage cells), myocytes (muscle cells), and adipocytes (fat cells). They also possess self-renewal capabilities, allowing them to maintain their stem cell population. MSCs are known for their immunomodulatory properties, which means they can modulate the immune system’s response.

Sources of Mesenchymal Stem Cells

MSCs can be found in various adult tissues, such as bone marrow, adipose tissue, dental pulp, and synovial membranes. However, their abundance in these tissues decreases with age, making it challenging to obtain sufficient quantities for therapeutic applications. This is where the umbilical cord comes in as an alternative source of MSCs.

The Umbilical Cord

Structure and Function

The umbilical cord is a lifeline connecting the fetus to the placenta during pregnancy. It supplies the developing fetus with oxygen and nutrients while removing waste products. The umbilical cord comprises two arteries and one vein, surrounded by a gelatinous substance called Wharton’s jelly.

Umbilical Cord Components

Umbilical cord blood (UCB) and umbilical cord tissue (UCT) are rich sources of stem cells. UCB is primarily known for its hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to blood and immune cells, while UCT is a rich source of MSCs.

  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Umbilical Cord
  • Umbilical Cord Blood and Tissue

MSCs can be derived from both UCB and UCT. Although the concentration of MSCs in UCB is lower than in UCT, advancements in isolation and expansion techniques have made it possible to obtain sufficient quantities of MSCs from UCB.

Isolation and Expansion

To obtain MSCs from the umbilical cord, researchers typically follow a process involving the collection of cord blood or tissue after birth, followed by the isolation and expansion of MSCs in a laboratory setting. This process ensures that enough cells are available for therapeutic applications, while also allowing for rigorous quality control and safety measures.

Advantages of Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells

Abundance and Accessibility

One of the main advantages of using umbilical cord-derived MSCs is their abundance and accessibility. Unlike other sources of MSCs, such as bone marrow, obtaining cells from the umbilical cord is non-invasive and painless for both the mother and the newborn. Additionally, the umbilical cord is typically discarded after birth, making it an ethical and readily available source of stem cells.

Immunomodulatory Properties

Umbilical cord MSCs exhibit strong immunomodulatory properties, which make them ideal candidates for treating autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. These cells can suppress the activation and proliferation of immune cells, promoting tissue repair and reducing inflammation.

Low Risk of Contamination and Disease Transmission

Since umbilical cord MSCs are harvested from newborns, they have a lower risk of contamination and disease transmission compared to adult-derived MSCs. This means that they can be used more safely in clinical applications without the need for extensive testing and quality control measures.

Therapeutic Applications

Regenerative Medicine

MSCs from the umbilical cord hold great promise in the field of regenerative medicine. Their ability to differentiate into various cell types and modulate immune responses make them attractive candidates for tissue repair and regeneration. They have been investigated for their potential to treat orthopedic injuries, cardiovascular diseases, and liver diseases, among others.

Autoimmune Diseases

The immunomodulatory properties of umbilical cord MSCs make them ideal for treating autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. By suppressing the immune system’s attack on the body’s own tissues, MSCs can help alleviate symptoms and slow down disease progression.

Neurological Disorders

Umbilical cord MSCs have also shown promise in the treatment of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal cord injury. Their ability to modulate inflammation and promote tissue repair may help improve neurological function and quality of life in patients with these conditions.

Ethical Considerations

The use of umbilical cord-derived MSCs is generally considered ethically sound, as the cord is typically discarded after birth, and obtaining stem cells does not harm the mother or newborn. However, informed consent from the parents is crucial, and proper storage and handling procedures must be followed to ensure the safety and integrity of the collected cells.


Mesenchymal stem cells from the umbilical cord offer a promising and ethically sound source of stem cells for therapeutic applications. Their abundance, accessibility, and unique properties make them attractive candidates for treating a wide range of conditions, from regenerative medicine to autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders. With ongoing research and advancements in stem cell technology, the potential of umbilical cord MSCs is continually expanding, paving the way for new and innovative treatment options.


What is the difference between mesenchymal stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells?

Mesenchymal stem cells can differentiate into various cell types, including bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat cells, while hematopoietic stem cells give rise to blood and immune cells.

Are umbilical cord-derived MSCs safe for use in therapy?

Yes, umbilical cord-derived MSCs have a lower risk of contamination and disease transmission compared to adult-derived MSCs, making them safer for therapeutic use. However, proper storage, handling, and quality control measures are essential to ensure the safety and efficacy of these cells.

Can umbilical cord MSCs be used for personalized medicine?

Yes, umbilical cord MSCs can be stored in cord blood banks for future use in personalized medicine. This allows for the potential use of an individual’s own MSCs for the treatment of various conditions, ensuring compatibility and reducing the risk of immune rejection.

What are the limitations of using umbilical cord-derived MSCs?

One limitation of using umbilical cord-derived MSCs is the potential variability in cell quality and potency. This can be influenced by factors such as the collection process, storage conditions, and expansion techniques.