Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be treated by using umbilical cord stem cells, claim scientists.
Animal and in vitro experiments have shown that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) taken from umbilical cord blood can suppress inflammation and attenuate collagen-induced arthritis.
Professor Zhan-guo Li worked with a team of researchers, from Peking University People's Hospital, China, to carry out the study.
"Very little is known about umbilical cord MSCs, and there has been no previous report about their use in the treatment of RA. MSCs can exert profound immunosuppression, which encourages their use in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as RA. At present, the most common source of MSCs has been bone marrow," he said.
"However, aspirating bone marrow is an invasive procedure and the number and the differentiating potential of bone marrow MSCs decrease with age. In contrast, the collection of umbilical cord MSCs does not require any invasive procedure," he added.
The researchers took immune cells from RA patients and showed that the umbilical MSCs were able to suppress the cells' proliferation, invasive behavior and inflammatory responses.
Systemic infusion of the umbilical MSCs into mice was shown to significantly reduce the severity of collagen-induced arthritis.
"RA imparts a massive burden on health services worldwide and none of the currently used agents reaches long term drug-free remission. Therefore, a new and more effective therapy for RA will be very welcome," Professor Li said.
The study has been described in BioMed Central's open access journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.