The umbilical cord provides a growing baby with blood and nutrients from mum. But after this job is complete, cells from the cord can be extracted and re-employed to help fix damaged nerve tissue. Indeed, umbilical cord tissue cells (UTCs) have been shown to boost regeneration and recovery in animal models of stroke and retinal degeneration, and are currently being investigated clinically as a possible treatment for age-related macular degeneration. It’s thought that factors secreted from the UTCs might somehow be responsible for their beneficial effects, and new research supports that theory. UTCs cultured in the same dish but physically separated from neurons (green) promoted the growth and survival of the neurons as well as the development of cell-to-cell connections, or synapses (yellow). Scientists are also starting to identify some of the secreted UTC factors, suggesting that, in the future, regenerative cocktails may replace the use of the cells themselves.
Written by Ruth Williams
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.