The placenta is a fascinating organ responsible for the nourishment and development of a growing baby within utero. There are several components of the placenta that come from the maternal (mother) and other components that originate from the fetal (baby) side. Since the placenta is comprised of stem cells from varying origins, some view the placenta as valuable to mother and baby after birth. In fact, the trend of placenta encapsulation and ingestion has surfaced in recent times, despite the lack of evidence to support its benefits. Likewise, some private cord blood banks offer parents the option to store placenta tissue for future use. However, the question remains- is it worth it? To answer this question, we have compiled research on what placenta stem cells can and cannot do and take a deeper look into comparing placental vs. umbilical cord tissue stem cells.
The Placenta, A Hodgepodge of Stem Cells
As mentioned, the placenta is made up of portions that represent stem cells of both maternal and fetal origin. The fetal side includes the amnion, chorion, and umbilical cord. The maternal side consists of the decidua. The fetal side receives baby’s blood from the umbilical cord, while the maternal side functions to provide oxygen and nutrients to the baby and eliminate waste products from the baby's blood. The placenta is comprised of many stem cells that are also found within cord tissue. However, umbilical cord tissue-derived stem cells are a pure source of fetal stem cells, whereas the placenta is a mix of stem cells, some of which are maternal.
Therefore, stem cells from the placenta can be contaminated with trace amounts of maternal cells, not easily isolated from fetal cells. The most popular type of stem cell used in clinical applications, especially in regenerative therapy exploration, are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). While MSCs can be found in other tissue sources besides placental, (i.e., adipose- derived, bone marrow-derived, and umbilical cord-derived), studies confirm the preferential use of umbilical cord-tissue derived MSCs. One study’s results revealed that both fetal and maternal MSCs share a similar phenotype and differentiation potential. Still, fetal MSCs (such as those in cord tissue) show a significantly higher expansion capacity, lower immunogenicity, and higher immunosuppressive capability than their maternal MSCs counterpart. Likewise, results from another study demonstrated that umbilical cord tissue stem cells had been shown to yield the highest number of MSCs.
Placental Stem Cells Studies Are Less Widespread
To date, a search in clinicaltrials.gov indicates 238 recruiting clinical trials taking place involving MSCs. Of those 238, there are currently only three international trials and one U.S. trial recruiting placenta-derived MSCs. In comparison, search results using the terms “umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells” indicate 78 recruiting trials.
Stem cells found within cord tissue are actively being utilized in various clinical studies to test the safety and efficacy in the treatment of other degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, osteoarthritis, cartilage injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, and many other conditions, including COVID-19. One publication notes that while there are a limited number of studies researching fragments of placental tissue, most of these studies lump these cell sources together, making it hard to isolate placental cells specifically. Furthermore, the article notes that, “references on the application of placental fragments are rarely found in the international scientific literature databases.” The challenges that arise with other placental cell sources are also noted, i.e., these cells can be more difficult to acquire under sterile conditions, unlike cord tissue stem cells.
The number of preclinical studies and clinical trials using placental MSCs is smaller in comparison to cord blood cells, which continue to be regarded with the highest level of interest among stem cell researchers. Since the interest in research with placenta extracts is still relatively low, there is not enough widespread clinical data to suggest its usefulness in the possible treatment of certain conditions in which cord tissue stem cells have been used. The short and long-term effects of placental stem cell therapies will need to be further explored with additional studies.
The Benefits of Umbilical Cord Tissue Banking
Some cord blood banks offer parents the option to bank their baby’s placental stem cells for an additional cost. However, many of the valuable stem cells found within placenta tissue are also found within cord tissue. Since it is difficult to extract stem cells that are only of fetal origin from the placenta, cord tissue remains the preferable source. It is also important to note that many of the major medical institutions such as Duke University, MD Anderson, Mayo Clinic, etc. are using MSCs from cord tissue, not placenta, in their clinical trials. MSCs sourced from umbilical cord tissue are being used for treatment in various indications to treat autism, cerebral palsy, cartilage injury, and, in more recent cases, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) induced by COVID-19.
Previous studies involving animal models showed promising results in the treatment of other respiratory conditions, including ARDS. A recent study published in a peer-reviewed journal has suggested that MSC therapy may be effective in treating COVID-19. The study focused on 7 patients for 14 days and noted that the pulmonary function and symptoms of three patients with COVID-19 pneumonia were significantly improved two days after MSCs transplantation.
Additionally, a recent multicenter randomized study was initiated by the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures at Duke University to test whether umbilical cord MSCs can help patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) attributed to COVID-19 infection. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University, and Cryo-Cell’s Medical Director, serves as the trial’s co-principal investigator.
We believe in the importance of cord blood and cord tissue banking and providing parents with the knowledge to make an informed decision regarding what and where to store. Cryo-Cell has been helping parents bank their baby’s stem cells for over three decades. As the longest- standing family bank in the U.S., and one of the most highly-accredited, we aim to provide our families with the best banking options in the industry. As research continues to develop, umbilical cord MSCs may prove to be a fast and viable treatment option for a wide range of indications. Additionally, families who bank with Cryo-Cell International can rest assured that as the industry evolves with relevant and applicable medical science, so will we.