Human umbilical cord blood monocytes, but not adult blood monocytes, rescue brain cells from hypoxic-ischemic injury: Mechanistic and therapeutic implications.


Cord blood (CB) mononuclear cells (MNC) are being tested in clinical trials to treat hypoxic-ischemic (HI) brain injuries. Although early results are encouraging, mechanisms underlying potential clinical benefits are not well understood. To explore these mechanisms further, we exposed mouse brain organotypic slice cultures to oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD) and then treated the brain slices with cells from CB or adult peripheral blood (PB). We found that CB-MNCs protect neurons from OGD-induced death and reduced both microglial and astrocyte activation. PB-MNC failed to affect either outcome. The protective activities were largely mediated by factors secreted by CB-MNC, as direct cell-to-cell contact between the injured brain slices and CB cells was not essential. To determine if a specific subpopulation of CB-MNC are responsible for these protective activities, we depleted CB-MNC of various cell types and found that only removal of CB CD14+ monocytes abolished neuroprotection. We also used positively selected subpopulations of CB-MNC and PB-MNC in this assay and demonstrated that purified CB-CD14+ cells, but not CB-PB CD14+ cells, efficiently protected neuronal cells from death and reduced glial activation following OGD. Gene expression microarray analysis demonstrated that compared to PB-CD14+ monocytes, CB-CD14+ monocytes over-expressed several secreted proteins with potential to protect neurons. Differential expression of five candidate effector molecules, chitinase 3-like protein-1, inhibin-A, interleukin-10, matrix metalloproteinase-9 and thrombospondin-1, were confirmed by western blotting, and immunofluorescence. These findings suggest that CD14+ monocytes are a critical cell-type when treating HI with CB-MNC.





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Publication Info

Saha, Arjun, Sachit Patel, Li Xu, Paula Scotland, Jonathan Schwartzman, Anthony J Filiano, Joanne Kurtzberg, Andrew E Balber, et al. (2019). Human umbilical cord blood monocytes, but not adult blood monocytes, rescue brain cells from hypoxic-ischemic injury: Mechanistic and therapeutic implications. PloS one, 14(9). p. e0218906. 10.1371/journal.pone.0218906 Retrieved from

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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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