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Stem cell therapy to protect and repair the developing brain: a review of mechanisms of action of cord blood and amnion epithelial derived cells.

ABSTRACT

In the research, clinical, and wider community there is great interest in the use of stem cells to reduce the progression, or indeed repair brain injury. Perinatal brain injury may result from acute or chronic insults sustained during fetal development, during the process of birth, or in the newborn period. The most readily identifiable outcome of perinatal brain injury is cerebral palsy, however, this is just one consequence in a spectrum of mild to severe neurological deficits. As we review, there are now clinical trials taking place worldwide targeting cerebral palsy with stem cell therapies. It will likely be many years before strong evidence-based results emerge from these trials. With such trials underway, it is both appropriate and timely to address the physiological basis for the efficacy of stem-like cells in preventing damage to, or regenerating, the newborn brain. Appropriate experimental animal models are best placed to deliver this information. Cell availability, the potential for immunological rejection, ethical, and logistical considerations, together with the propensity for native cells to form teratomas, make it unlikely that embryonic or fetal stem cells will be practical. Fortunately, these issues do not pertain to the use of human amnion epithelial cells (hAECs), or umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells that are readily and economically obtained from the placenta and umbilical cord discarded at birth. These cells have the potential for transplantation to the newborn where brain injury is diagnosed or even suspected. We will explore the novel characteristics of hAECs and undifferentiated UCB cells, as well as UCB-derived endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and how immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory properties are principal mechanisms of action that are common to these cells, and which in turn may ameliorate the cerebral hypoxia and inflammation that are final pathways in the pathogenesis of perinatal brain injury.