Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California have long taken advantage of the incredible reconstructive properties of cord blood cells in treating various diseases and immune disorders, and now they believe that they may be on the verge of a breakthrough that will allow them to use those same cells in treating traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. Because of the cord blood cells’ transformative properties, these scientists have been able to turn the CB cells into ectodermal cells, which are the origin cells of brain and spinal cells.
CB cells are unique and beneficial because they are found in the blood of the umbilical cord. Therefore, they are naturally occurring and are not taken from sources such as adult bones or embryos. When a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta can be kept in a process known as cord blood banking. The decision to keep the umbilical cord and harvest the CB cells can be incredibly important and beneficial to a family. The CB cells provided by the umbilical cord can be used to treat a variety of illnesses, and with this newfound optimism at the Salk Institute, it could mean the difference between life and death in the case of a stroke or worse.
According to Science Blog, the institute’s new study, developed as the result of collaboration between Gene Expression Laboratory professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and Laboratory of Genetics professor Fred H. Gage.
“This study shows for th
e first time the direct conversion of a pure population of human cord blood cells into cells of neuronal lineage by the forced expression of a single transcription factor,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, who led the research team.
“Unlike previous studies, where multiple transcription factors were necessary to convert skin cells into neurons, our method requires only one transcription factor to convert CB cells into functional neurons,” says Gage.
The team of researchers believes that with progress, these cells can eventually be used to defeat a number of brain injuries and diseases, including Alzheimer’s, autism, Parkinson’s, and schizophrenia, among others. If successful, the Salk Institute advancements could lead to a network of CB cell banking that would allow people to find genetic matches all over the world, well beyond just family resources.
Other studies have previously shown that siblings can benefit the most from CB cell use in regenerative treatments. At least 25% of the time, sibling CB cells are a perfect match. While that percentage is reduced outside of brothers and sisters, it is still higher within family DNA than it is outside. The purpose of the ongoing Salt Institute work is to develop and procure a way to manage universal treatments through moderately increasing CB banking.