Can umbilical stem cells treat rheumatoid arthritis?

Do you know someone who is pregnant right now? Do you know anyone who has rheumatoid arthritis? I do. Actually, in my case, they’re the same person.

Beccy and I grew up together. We were in the same class until we were 16 years old. We were both in the choir, though she was the one with the talent and played the lead in our school plays.

Arthritis hurts some people their whole lifetime

Beccy was also born with rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain about it, but it’s always there, not far beneath the surface. When she politely declines certain activities we don’t always realise soon enough that it’s because it will hurt the joints in her hands, where she suffers most. And there’s always been an unspoken understanding that there are certain things she might not do. Like have children.

Beccy is now an auntie several times over and has taken boyfriend’s children under her wing in the past. Many of our friends’ children are at secondary school themselves now so I suppose we assumed pregnancy was something Beccy would never do.

Can umbilical stem cells cure rheumatoid arthritis?

Maybe. Against the odds, Beccy is expecting her first child very soon. Of course, we’re worried about how her body will cope with this challenge to any woman’s strength and resilience. But so far, she’s feeling strong and looking as well and happy as we’ve ever seen her. It’s fascinating to think that the very thing that nearly prevented Beccy from being a mum could be cured by the cells growing alongside her baby.

The umbilical cord contains two types of stem cells that Biovault Family collect, process and release for treatment. The first, Haematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs) are found in the blood that is left in the umbilical cord and placenta after the baby is born. Cord blood HSCs have been used since 1988 to treat blood cancers and other life-threatening conditions affecting our blood and immune systems.

Discover the reasons doctors are choosing cord blood stem cells over bone marrow and peripheral blood for cancer treatments.

The second type of stem cell is found in the umbilical cord tissue itself. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are the parent cells of all of our tissue cells, such as bone, muscle and tendon. These cells could end the pain of rheumatoid arthritis for people like Beccy.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis, and how can stem cells help?

In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue that lines the joints, which can cause pain, inflammation, swelling, and stiffness.

This inflammation can extend to the cartilage that covers the ends of joints and cause irreversible damage and loss of function. It can also damage other tissues, including the lungs, heart, kidney, skin, and eyes.

MSCs can develop into cartilage and bone. Synovial MSC therapy involves injecting these cells directly into the tissues surrounding the affected joints.

Is there any evidence that umbilical stem cells can treat rheumatoid arthritis?

One 2013 study investigated the efficacy of MSC therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). All 172 participants continued to take their regular RA medication during the course of the study. A subset of the participants also received two MSC treatments via intravenous injection, while another subset received placebo injections (the controls).

Compared with the controls, those who received the MSC treatment showed a significant remission of the condition. The team measured the extent of remission using the improvement criteria of the American College of Rheumatology, the 28-joint disease activity score, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire.

Improvements also correlated with increased levels of regulatory T cells (RTCs) in the blood. RTCs stop the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells. As such, they play a vital role in controlling inflammation.

The treatment induced a significant remission of disease according to the American College of Rheumatology improvement criteria, the 28-joint disease activity score, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire. 

Stem Cells and DevelopmentVol. 22, No. 24

Stem Cells and DevelopmentVol. 22, No. 24

Research shows that MSCs are able to suppress the immune system and reduce the body’s inflammatory response. This makes MSC therapy a promising treatment option for autoimmune conditions such as RA.

How can Biovault Family help pregnant women to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions?


stem cell preservation

BSc (Hons) Microbiology

Chief Executive Officer | Biovault Family

Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.

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