If you’ve been reading about Regenerative Medicine (RM), Regenerative Cellular Therapy (RCT), Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), or Stem Cell Therapy lately, you’ve probably heard about Wharton’s Jelly. What is it and why is it so special? Keep reading to find out!
Jelly is a gelatin-like substance found in the umbilical cords of placental mammals. It’s largely made up of hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate. Wharton’s Jelly surrounds, insulates, supports, and protects the umbilical vein and arteries. It was first described in 1656 by Dr. Thomas Wharton. Technically, it’s described as a mucous connective tissue. The Wharton’s Jelly of humans is a unique form of connective tissue in that it contains only mesenchymal cells – no other cell types, no neurons, and no vascular cells (except the artery and veins).
What is the Umbilical Cord?
The umbilical cord is a structure that connects the placenta to the fetus. It provides the developing fetus with a system of nutrition, oxygenation, and waste removal. In humans, the umbilical cord is approximately 15-23 inches long, and ¾ of an inch in diameter.
What Does Wharton’s Jelly Do?
In addition to supporting and protecting the umbilical vein and arteries, Wharton’s Jelly changes its structure when exposed to temperature changes. When a baby is delivered and the cord is exposed to room temperature (as opposed to the internal temperature of the uterus), the Wharton’s Jelly structure “collapses” and provides a natural “clamping” of the umbilical cord. This occurs within approximately 5 minutes of delivery. It also prevents the umbilical cord from “kinking” as the fetus moves in the womb.
Depending on how the cells are isolated from the tissue, as many as 1 out of every 300 cells to 1 out of every 1700 cells found in Wharton’s Jelly are a mesenchymal stem cell. This is compared to 1 out of every 10,000 to 1 out of every 100,000 cells in bone marrow. Therefore, Wharton’s Jelly is one of the richest sources of mesenchymal stem cells that we know of.
Benefits of Wharton’s Jelly-Derived MSCs (WJ-MSC)
MSCs derived from Wharton’s Jelly are ideal for many reasons. First, there is no pain or discomfort involved in harvesting these cells. They are extracted in abundance from healthy, screened, and tested umbilical cords donated after a scheduled c-section.
Second, MSCs from Wharton’s Jelly are “immune-privileged” and do not stimulate an immune response in the recipient. This means they are unlikely to create an allergic or rejection reaction. Therefore, tissue or blood typing is not required to receive these stem cells. Furthermore, they are non-tumorigenic in nature, meaning they have not been found to produce tumors like embryonic stem cells.
Third, Wharton’s Jelly-derived MSCs are young and vibrant. They multiply and divide at a
rapid rate – one WJ-MSC can create up to one billion cells in 30 days, as opposed to the 200 cells that a bone marrow derived MSC from a 65-year-old person can produce. WJ-MSC are able to differentiate into other cell types (such as bone, cartilage, etc.) as needed.
Finally, WJ-MSCs can release up to 300 bio-active molecules, growth factors, cytokines, etc. as compared to the 100-200 that an older MSC is capable of producing. These substances contribute to the powerful healing, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and regenerative abilities of stem cell treatments.
A recent article demonstrates that Wharton’s Jelly-derived MSCs are superior to bone marrow-derived MSCs at treating sepsis and septic shock!
Why Can’t I Just Use My Own Stem Cells?
This is a question we hear all the time! There are many reasons NOT to use your own stem cells:
- The retrieval process to obtain your own stem cells from your fat or bone marrow are invasive and painful. It requires some level of anesthesia, and can take several hours. The down-time following the procedure can be several days to several weeks.
- There is a risk of infection from the harvesting procedure.
- Your stem cells are as old and healthy (or unhealthy) as you are! The number and function of your stem cells declines as your age increases. Your stem cells have been exposed to free radicals, medications such as NSAIDs, high fat diets, and diseases such as diabetes. As such, they are less healthy, less vibrant, and less capable of helping you to heal and regenerate than WJ-MSCs.
Hopefully this article has increased your understanding of Wharton’s Jelly as it pertains to the field of Regenerative Medicine and Regenerative Cellular Therapy!
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