Isolation and expansion of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells from cryopreserved human umbilical cord blood.

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Background aims

Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPC) hold promise as a cellular therapy for demyelinating diseases. The feasibility of using OPC-based therapies in humans depends upon a reliable, readily available source. We have previously described the isolation, expansion and characterization of oligodendrocyte-like cells from fresh human umbilical cord blood (UCB). We now describe the isolation and expansion of OPC from thawed, cryopreserved UCB.


We thawed cryopreserved UCB units employing a standard clinical protocol, then isolated and plated mononuclear cells under previously established culture conditions. All OPC cultures were trypsinized at 21 days, counted, then characterized by flow cytometry after fixation, permeablization and labeling with the following antibodies: anti-oligodendrocyte marker 4 (O4), anti-oligodendrocyte marker 1 (O1) and anti-myelin basic protein (MBP). OPC were also placed in co-culture with shiverer mouse neuronal cells then stained in situ for beta tubulin III (BT3) and MBP as a functional assay of myelination.


The average OPC yield per cryopreserved UCB unit was 64% of that seen with fresh UCB. On flow cytometric analysis, 74% of thawed UCB units yielded cells with an O4-expression level of at least 20% of total events, compared with 95% of fresh UCB units. We observed myelination of shiverer neurons in our functional assay, which could be used as a potency assay for release of OPC cells in phase I human clinical trials.


Our results demonstrate that OPC can be derived reliably from thawed, cryopreserved UCB units, and support the feasibility of using these cells in human clinical trials.





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Publication Info

Tracy, Elisabeth T, Claire Y Zhang, Tracy Gentry, Kevin W Shoulars and Joanne Kurtzberg (2011). Isolation and expansion of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells from cryopreserved human umbilical cord blood. Cytotherapy, 13(6). pp. 722–729. 10.3109/14653249.2011.553592 Retrieved from

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Elisabeth Tomlinson Tracy

Assistant Professor of Surgery

Joanne Kurtzberg

Jerome S. Harris Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics

Dr. Kurtzberg is an internationally renowned expert in pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric blood and marrow transplantation, umbilical cord blood banking and transplantation, and novel applications of cord blood and birthing tissues in the emerging fields of cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.   Dr. Kurtzberg serves as the Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures (MC3), Director of the Pediatric Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, and Co-Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Laboratory at Duke University.  The Carolinas Cord Blood Bank is an FDA licensed public cord blood bank distributing unrelated cord blood units for donors for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) through the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program.  The Robertson GMP Cell Manufacturing Laboratory supports manufacturing of RETHYMIC (BLA, Enzyvant, 2021), allogeneic cord tissue derived and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), and DUOC, a microglial/macrophage cell derived from cord blood.

Dr. Kurtzberg’s research in MC3 focuses on translational studies from bench to bedside, seeking to develop transformative clinical therapies using cells, tissues, molecules, genes, and biomaterials to treat diseases and injuries that currently lack effective treatments. Recent areas of investigation in MC3 include clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of autologous and allogeneic cord blood in children with neonatal brain injury – hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and autism. Clinical trials testing allogeneic cord blood are also being conducted in adults with acute ischemic stroke. Clinical trials optimizing manufacturing and testing the safety and efficacy of cord tissue MSCs in children with autism, CP and HIE and adults with COVID-lung disease are underway. DUOC, given intrathecally, is under study in children with leukodystrophies and adults with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

In the past, Dr. Kurtzberg has developed novel chemotherapeutic drugs for acute leukemias, assays enumerating ALDH bright cells to predict cord blood unit potency, methods of cord blood expansion, potency assays for targeted cell and tissue based therapies. Dr. Kurtzberg currently holds several INDs for investigational clinical trials from the FDA.  She has also trained numerous medical students, residents, clinical and post-doctoral fellows over the course of her career.

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