Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen Research & Development, LLC. The findings, which were published online on November 25, 2015 in the Journal of Neuroscience, implicate one family of molecules in particular -- thrombospondins -- that may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of degenerative eye diseases. The article is titled “Human Umbilical Tissue-Derived Cells (hUTC) Promote Synapse Formation and Neurite Outgrowth via Thrombospondin Family Proteins.” "By learning more about how these cells work, we are one step closer to understanding the disease states in which these cells should be studied," said Cagla Eroglu (photo), Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center, who led the research. Umbilical cord tissue-derived cells (hUTC) differ from umbilical cord blood cells in that they are isolated from cord tissue itself, rather than the blood. The Duke team used an established cell culture system to determine whether and how the hUTCs might affect the growth of neurons isolated from the retinas of rat eyes. In an experimental setup that allowed the two types of cells to bathe in the same fluid without coming into physical contact, retinal neurons in a bath with hUTCs formed new synaptic connections between neurons, and they sprouted new 'neurites' -- tiny branches that lead to additional connections. These cells also survived longer than rat neurons placed in a bath lacking the umbilical cord tissue-derived cells. Something present in the fluid surrounding the neurons in the bath with the hUTCs was apparently affecting the neurons.
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