We might soon change the way we think about wounds and the way they heal, thanks to research using umbilical cord stem cells to treat chronic wounds.
Umbilical cord blood banking is by now a familiar option for new parents wishing to protect their family against diseases such as leukaemia, sickle cell and lymphoma. Cord blood isn’t the only source of newborn stem cells, however.
Biovault Family stores umbilical cord tissue as well as cord blood stem cells because the cord itself is a rich source of MSCs: the mesenchymal stem cells responsible for the growth and repair of bodily tissues such as muscle, bone and tendon.
Scientists are now beginning to use MSCs to bolster the immune system, regenerate damaged tissues and to treat or even prevent disease. Now, a group of scientists in Texas have used cord tissue to improve wound healing.
What is a chronic wound?
A chronic wound is a wound that does not heal within around three months but remains in one of the phases of wound healing. Chronic wounds may never heal, causing patients emotional and physical stress and putting pressure on our healthcare services.
Chronic wounds have a number of causes including poor circulation, systemic illnesses, old age, and repeated trauma. Until now treatments were generally limited to the prolonged use of antibiotics and, where necessary, skin grafts.
Stem cells and wounds
The stem cells in umbilical cord tissue are young, healthy and can be stored cryogenically for decades. The combination of these properties means that they are highly valuable therapeutically.
Cord blood stem cells have been shown to result in fewer incidents of graft versus host disease because the young cells are particularly pliant and adaptable.
Crucially, there are no negative effects on the infant donor of cord stem cells. Cord tissue can be collected and stored after the needs of mother and baby have been met, a considerable advantage to the collection of stem cells from bone marrow.
Doctors at the clinic in Temple, Texas enrolled 57 patients, who were suffering from 64 separate wounds. The treatment itself is straightforward: each wound is cleared of dead, damaged, or infected tissue before securing a cord tissue sample secured with moist gauze.
Encouraging results for patients and healthcare services
For many of the patients, this process was repeated on a weekly basis. After the treatment cycle was completed, the Texas team discovered impressive results: 51 wounds – almost 80 percent of the total – had healed in just under four weeks. This overall wound-healing rate of 79.7% is far higher than any published standard-of-care wound healing rates (approximately 24%) and confirmed the scientists’ hypothesis that the application of an umbilical cord tissue graft can improve the healing of chronic wounds.
Cord tissue treatment is likely to be less costly than conventional therapies. In the US chronic wound treatment is estimated to cost over $50 billion per year. In addition to the cost associated with medical interventions such as antibiotics and skin grafts, a failure to heal affects a patient’s ability to work, ultimately resulting in both increased health care and socioeconomic costs.
Clinical use of cord tissue to treat chronic wounds
Doctors have already begun to use umbilical cord tissue samples to treat wounds. Dr Andrew Rice of Fairfield County Foot Surgeons explained how he had treated a diabetic patient’s foot ulcers with cord tissue. By using this stem cell-rich tissue, Dr Rice was able to reduce one patient’s wound care regimen from six months down to five weeks. Rice added that he believes the use of cord cells on wounds might also help ensure that these areas don’t become damaged or vulnerable after healing the first time.
BSc (Hons) Microbiology
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.