Mesenchymal stromal/stem cells, or MSCs, were first isolated from bone marrow decades ago and are multipotent stem cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types, including osteoblasts, chondrocytes, adipocytes, myocytes, skin and tendon fibroblasts, neural-like and stromal cells from marrow.
The clinical potential of MSCs in regenerative medicine is far from being limited to their differentiation potential. In fact, several reports demonstrate that the beneficial effects promoted by MSCs rather result from a paracrine secretion of trophic factors, such as cytokines, and/or cell-to-cell chemotactic interactions that modulate inflammation, immune reactions and activity of surrounding cells.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that human MSCs generate a local immunosuppressive microenvironment. This immunomodulation activity of human MSCs is enhanced when cells are exposed to an inflammatory environment which makes these cells potentially important agents to treat both autoimmune and/or inflammation-related disorders.
A type of very primitive MSCs can be obtained from the umbilical cord tissue (or Wharton’s jelly), and from the umbilical cord blood. However, the umbilical cord tissue is a much richer source of MSCs when compared to the umbilical cord blood, which in turn is a typical source for hematopoeitic stem cells, already committed to the blood lineage. The umbilical cord is easily obtained after birth and it is normally discarded, posing therefore no risk for the donor during procurement.
At ECBio, a new method has been developed for the isolation of a homogenous population of MSCs from the umbilical cord tissue which is safe, robust, greatly efficient and effective against microbiological contaminations. Both technical aspects and main applications of the method are protected by patents. The method is the basis for the production of ECBio’s main starting material and active substance, trade mark registered under Umbilical Cord eXpandaded cells – UCX®.
Competitive advantage of UCX® technology
- Few or no ethical issues (cells are isolated from umbilical cord tissue – regarded as a surgical residue)
- UCX® cells are isolated in high numbers and can be extensively expanded in culture (allowing the most dose demanding clinical applications)
- UCX® cells have high allogeneic potential (use in unrelated patients) due to their low immunogenicity
- UCX® cells are immunosuppressive and possess anti-inflammatory activity
- UCX® cells are safe (genetically stable, no tumor formation) even after high expansion in culture, unlike many other stem cells
- UCX® cells can be efficiently cryopreserved and can be ready to be used off the shelf
The technology behind UCX® production has already been transferred to Cythotera, a company implemented in the Portuguese banking/cryopreservation market and is currently under pre-clinical development for several clinical applications. In some cell therapy areas UCX® is rapidly approaching the point of clinical trials (see Research).