Umbilical Cord Blood Cells Combined with Growth Factors Improves Traumatic Brain Injury Outcomes


Approximately 2 million Americans experience a traumatic brain injury every year. Most of these are individuals who employed in high-risk jobs such as the military, firefighting, police work and others types of essential but highly dangerous jobs. No matter how small the injury, individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can suffer from a whole host of motor, behavioral, intellectual and cognitive disabilities over the short or long-term. Unfortunately, there are few clinical treatments for TBI, and the few we have are rather ineffective.

In order to design better, more effective treatments for TBI, neuroscientists at the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, Department of Neurosurgery in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, have used umbilical cord stem cells in combination with growth factors to treat TBIs in mice.

This study investigated the ability of several strategies, both by themselves and in combination with other therapies, to treat rats with a laboratory form of TBI. In particular, the USF team discovered that a combination of human umbilical cord blood cells (hUBCs) and granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), a growth factor, was more therapeutic than either administered alone, or each with saline, or saline alone.

“Chronic TBI is typically associated with major secondary molecular injuries, including chronic neuroinflammation, which not only contribute to the death of neuronal cells in the central nervous system, but also impede any natural repair mechanism,” said study lead author Cesar V. Borlongan, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and director of USF’s Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair. “In our study, we used hUBCs and G-CSF alone and in combination. In previous studies, hUBCs have been shown to suppress inflammation, and G-CSF is currently being investigated as a potential therapeutic agent for patients with stroke or Alzheimer’s disease.”

In previous studies, Borlongan and his team showed that G-CSF can mobilize stem cells from bone marrow and induce them to home to and infiltrate injured tissues. While there, the cells promote neural cell self-repair. Cells from human umbilical cord blood also have the ability to suppress inflammation and promote cell growth.

“Our results showed that the combined therapy of hUBCs and G-CSF significantly reduced the TBI-induced loss of neuronal cells in the hippocampus,” said Borlongan. “Therapy with hUBCs and G-CSF alone or in combination produced beneficial results in animals with experimental TBI. G-CSF alone produced only short-lived benefits, while hUBCs alone afforded more robust and stable improvements. However, their combination offered the best motor improvement in the laboratory animals.”

“This outcome may indicate that the stem cells had more widespread biological action than the drug therapy,” said Paul R. Sanberg, distinguished professor at USF and principal investigator of the Department of Defense funded project. “Regardless, their combination had an apparent synergistic effect and resulted in the most effective amelioration of TBI-induced behavioral deficits.”

This particular study examined motor improvements or improvements in movement, but the USF group suggested that future combination therapy research should also include analysis of cognitive improvement in the laboratory animals with TBI.

In short, umbilical cord cell and growth factor treatments tested in animal models could offer hope for millions, including U.S. war veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

Post-script:  On Twitter, Alexey Bersenev made some very helpful observations about this paper.  In this paper, the authors used whole human umbilical cord blood.  They did not attempt to separate any of the different cell types from the cord blood.  Now when such whole blood is used, it is easy to assume that the stem cells in the blood that are doing the regenerative work.  However, as Alexey graciously pointed out, you cannot assume that the stem cells are responsible for the therapeutic effects for at least two main reasons:  1)  the number of stem cells in the cord blood is quite small relative to the other cells; 2) some of the non-stem cells in the blood turn out to have therapeutic effects.  See here and here.  I have seen some of these papers before, but I did not think much of them.  Therefore, until the cell populations in the umbilical cord blood are dissected out and studied, all we can say with any confidence is SOMETHING in the cord blood is conveying a therapeutic effect, but the identity of the therapeutic culprit remains unclear at this time.

A Protein from Fat-Based Stem Cells Prevents Light-Induced Damage to the Retina


Japanese researchers from Gifu Pharmaceutical University and Gifu University have reported that a type of protein found in stem cells taken from adipose (fat) tissue can reverse and prevent age-related, light-induced retinal damage in mice. These results may lead to treatments for patients faced with permanent vision loss.

According to the work done by these two research teams led by Drs. Hideaki Hara and Kazuhiro Tsuruma, a single injection of fat-derived stem cells (ASCs) reduced the retinal damage induced by light exposure in mice. This study also discovered that when fat-derived stem cells were grown in culture with retinal cells, the stem cells prevented the retinal cells from suffering damage after exposure to hydrogen peroxide and visible light both in the culture and in the retinas of live mice.

Additionally, Hara and Tsuruma and their colleagues discovered a protein in fat-derived stem cells called “progranulin.” This protein, progranulin, seems to play a central role in protecting other cells from suffering light-induced eye damage.

In the retina, which lies at the back of the eye, excessive light exposure causes degeneration of the photoreceptor cells that respond to light. Several studies have suggested that a long-term history of exposure to light might be an important factor in the onset of age-related macular degeneration. Photoreceptor loss is the primary cause of blindness in particular eye-specific degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

“However, there are few effective therapeutic strategies for these diseases,” Hideaki Hara, Ph.D., R.Ph., and Kazuhiro Tsuruma, Ph.D., R.Ph.

“Recent studies have demonstrated that bone marrow-derived stem cells protect against central nervous system degeneration with limited results. Just like the bone marrow stem cells, ASCs also self-renew and have the ability to change, or differentiate, as they grow. But since they come from fat, they can be obtained more easily under local anesthesia and in large quantities.”

The fat tissue used in the study was taken from mice and processed in the laboratory to isolate the fat-based stem cells. Afterwards, those cells were tested with cultured mouse retinal cells, and they show a robust protective effect. These successes suggested to the team to test their theory on a live group of mice that had retinal damage after exposure to intense levels of light.

Five days after receiving injections of the fat-based stem cells, the animals were tested for photoreceptor degeneration and retinal dysfunction. The results showed the degeneration had been significantly inhibited.

“Progranulin was identified as a major secreted protein of ASCs, which showed protective effects against retinal damage in culture and in animal tests using mice,” Drs. Hara and Tsuruma said. “As such, it may be a potential target for the treatment of degenerative diseases of the retina such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. The ASCs reduced photoreceptor degeneration without engraftment, which is concordant with the results of previous studies using bone marrow stem cells.”

“This study, suggesting that the protein progranulin may play a pivotal role in protecting against retinal light-induced damage, points to the potential for new therapeutic approaches to degenerative diseases of the retina,” said, Anthony Atala, MD, editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where this work was published.