Umbilical cord vs amniotic tissue stem cells – where do they come from and how are they different?

Umbilical cord blood stem cells, which Rejuva Stem Cell Clinic uses in its regenerative therapies, have many uses in tissue-renewing medicine. However, they are not the only source of neonatal stem cells. Other sources of stem cells from fetal tissue include the placenta, amniotic fluid, and the amniotic membrane- the sac which holds the developing fetus and surrounding fluid.1 Each of these sources has attracted attention recently for their potential use in therapies for various conditions. Here we will take a look at umbilical and amniotic tissue-derived stem cells and see what exactly makes them different.

First, where do these different cell types come from? As a fertilized egg grows and divides to form an embryo, its various cells and tissues develop at different stages along the way. Very early in development, when the embryo is still a ball of similar cells, the outer layer expands out and becomes the amniotic sac. When the embryo implants into the uterine wall, part of this outer layer forms the placenta. The umbilical cord grows out of the placenta and connects it to the growing fetus.2

Umbilical cord blood contains all blood cell types as well as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).3 MSCs can grow into connective tissues like muscle, bone, cartilage, and fat, while HSCs give rise to blood and immune cells. Amniotic fluid contains MSCs, HSCs, and small numbers of embryonic stem cells (ESCs). It also contains other cell types, like epithelial cells that slough off the developing baby’s skin.4 Umbilical cord blood has higher concentrations of the desired MSCs and especially HSCs than amniotic fluid.3,5

Umbilical cord blood stem cells are collected, washed, and stored within hours following a healthy birth. While most amniotic stem cells are likewise collected after birth, they provide an advantage for screening: a small amount of amniotic cells may be collected and tested prior to birth. To do this, amniotic cells are collected by a process called amniocentesis, in which a long needle is guided into the amniotic sac by ultrasound to pull out fluid. The cells can then be tested to check a baby’s blood type and genetic health before they are born.4

For both umbilical and amniotic cells, stem cells are typically sorted from other cell types before they are frozen for storage. This helps ensure a high rate of stem cell recovery when they are thawed years later. Most often, umbilical cord blood cells are used, because amniotic stem cells are difficult to keep alive following delivery. Stem cells from both sources have similar capabilities to grow and heal tissue. Recently, umbilical cord cells have been used to address a variety of conditions including muscle, cardiac, nerve, and blood disorders.2,5

Today, a range of sources for stem cells are available. However, with a high yield of high-quality stem cells, umbilical cord blood is still the preferred source for many doctors and clinics.3

1. Trohatou O, Roubelakis MG. Mesenchymal Stem/Stromal Cells in Regenerative Medicine: Past, Present, and Future. Cellular reprogramming. 2017;19(4):217-224.
2. Bollini S, Silini AR, Banerjee A, Wolbank S, Balbi C, Parolini O. Cardiac Restoration Stemming From the Placenta Tree: Insights From Fetal and Perinatal Cell Biology. Frontiers in physiology. 2018;9:385.
3. Weiss ML, Troyer DL. Stem cells in the umbilical cord. Stem cell reviews. 2006;2(2):155-162.
4. Savickiene J, Treigyte G, Baronaite S, et al. Human Amniotic Fluid Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Second- and Third-Trimester Amniocentesis: Differentiation Potential, Molecular Signature, and Proteome Analysis. Stem cells international. 2015;2015:319238.
5. Pozzobon M, Franzin C, Piccoli M, De Coppi P. Fetal stem cells and skeletal muscle regeneration: a therapeutic approach. Frontiers in aging neuroscience. 2014;6:222.

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