Stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood may be an alternative to embryonic ones after all.

Think of embryonic stem cells as the perfect cover band: Give them a certain type of cell to mimic and they nail it, quickly pumping out more of the same. But they may not be the only cells that can pull off this copying act. A new study, published in the February issue of Stem Cells and Development, indicates that blood extracted from umbilical cords may be a promising alternative source of fresh stem cell lines.

Researchers at the Medical School of the University of Minnesota identified a new, more versatile type of umbilical cord stem cell that they hope will help repair damage to the brain as well as the blood.

“When we drew the cells, we were pleased to discover that they expressed the attributes of primitive stem cells,” said senior investigator Walter Low. “No one knew they were there before this particular report.”

Until now, scientists could only coax these cells to produce tissue types found in blood, such as platelets and white blood cells. This specificity limited the cells’ possible applications to only a handful of diseases, like leukemia and various types of anemia.

The new cell line was remarkably effective in treating strokes during tests on laboratory mice. Not only did the treatment reduce the size of brain injuries by half, but some of the cells even began taking on the characteristics of neural tissue-something the scientists weren’t expecting.

Low and his team found that the new type of cell also prompted existing nerve fibers to reestablish connections damaged by stroke, potentially helping victims recover faster and more completely.

“We knew stem cells were a source of cell replacement, but what we learned was that they also can cause the brain to rewire itself,” said Low. “Hopefully we can look at treatments in the acute phase shortly after a stroke, and even later, to help the brain in reorganizing.”

Dr. Paul Sanberg, a professor at the University of South Florida who has worked extensively with cord blood cells, praised the study for expanding the possible uses of these cells.

“This cell line may not be useful for current treatments,” Sanberg said via e-mail, “but it may be good for neurological disease and other diseases in the future.”

Although the primitive stem cells may eventually be used in a wider variety of treatments, Low says further studies are needed in order to compare their effectiveness with embryonic cells.

Originally published February 23, 2006


Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More


  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.


Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM