You may have seen stories from the National Public Radio (NPR) and the L.A. Times being shared through social media on how umbilical cord blood reversed the symptoms of ageing in mice, but as great as this potenital is, it, unfortunately, does not apply to cord blood as it is currently being stored.
Joe Castellano, a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, and a team of scientists have reported in a letter published in Nature magazine that they found a protein in umbilical cord plasma that reversed the signs of ageing in mice, leading the way for further studies on how it may have a similar effect in humans. News of the findings was published by such big outlet as the National Public Radio (NPR) and the L.A. Times and was shared quickly through social media. While the results hold potential, there’s a reason cord blood banks aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) tying the results to their own services.
Mice infused with cord blood plasma were able to complete a maze much more quickly
After infusing human umbilical cord plasma into elderly mice, the team at Stanford found that the mice had improved memory and brain function, increased metabolism, better muscle retention, and a more robust bone structure. Part of this test included watching how long it took the mice to escape a maze they had previously navigated.
"Their (initial) performance wasn't very impressive," said Joe Castellano, "but after cord plasma treatment, both the time (to) find it, the rate at which they'd find it and the fact that they do find it was improved and changing."
The group was able to narrow down the cause for the improvement in performance to a single protein, TIMP2. It is not yet definitively known why this protein had such an effect.
Possible Treatment Options
News of this discovery focused on its possible role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but the group says they are hoping to be able to find an opportunity in overall, whole body rejuvenation. If TIMP2 and other like proteins are vetted further and shown to have a positive effect, it could result in a cocktail of proteins that could help the body not necessarily live longer but function better in its older years.
Is This a Win for Cord Blood Banking?
As the headlines specifically call out umbilical cord blood, it’s natural to think the results of this study should be touted by cord blood banks; however, there is one distinction that must be understood. During the processing of cord blood, the plasma and red blood cells are separated away from the buffy layer, which contains the white blood and stem cells. It is this buffy layer that is extracted and cryo-preserved. The TIMP2 protein highlighted in the study is found in the cord’s plasma and would have long been disposed of as medical waste. While Cryo-Cell International does retain for testing purposes more of each baby’s cord blood plasma than other cord blood banks, it is not enough to take part in a transplantation.
While the results may not tie directly to cord blood banking as a current service, it does reveal a little more about the regenerative capabilities of cord blood. Cord blood plasma is also something cord blood banks could decide to start storing if this and perhaps other breakthroughs are translated from mice to human applications, but there is still reason to believe cord blood stem cells hold more potential:
Cord blood stem cells are being researched as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by a buildup of what is known as β-amyloid plaques. Generally, A β accumulation in the brain causes localized inflammation. Because human umbilical cord blood stem cells promote an anti-inflammation benefit, it is therefore possible that these cells may prove to be effective in treating this disorder.
In addition, we know that ageing is tied to the slowing of stem cell replication and research is being conducted using cord blood to help open the door for a future where there is an actual anti-ageing “elixir” that could help turn back the hands of time—no plasma required.