Repairing the prostate gland is an important goal in regenerative medicine. However, finding the right cell for the job has proven to be a slow and tedious search.
To that end, Wei-Qiang Gao and his colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, used mesenchymal stem cells from human umbilical cord (hUC-MSCs) to test the ability of these cells to differentiate into prostate-specific cells. They combined hUC-MSCs with rat urogenital sinus stromal cells (rUGSSs) and then transplanted these cells into the renal capsule of BLB/c nude mice for two months. Cells tend to grow very well under the kidney capsule because this particular microenvironment has a very rich blood supply. Also the rUGSSs provide soluble, secreted factors that induce the hUC-MSCs to differentiate into prostate-specific cells.
After removing the implanted tissue, analyses of the implanted cells showed that the hUC-MSCs differentiated into prostate epithelial-like cells. This was confirmed by the presence of prostate specific antigen on the surfaces of these hUC-MSCs. Prostate specific antigen is only found on prostate cells, which is the reason why this protein is such a good indicator of prostate cancer. Also, the hUC-MSCs formed prostatic glandular structures that had the same cellular architecture as a normal prostate (see figure F below). Additionally, the human origin of the hUC-MSCs was further confirmed by the detection of a protein called human nuclear antigen, which is specific to human cells.
This interesting paper shows that hUC-MSCs can differentiate into epithelial-like cells that are normally derived from embryonic endodermal tissue. This implies that MSCs from umbilical cord can be used to repair not only prostate glands, but also other endodermally-derived tissues.