What is Wharton’s Jelly?
Wharton's jelly is a gelatinous substance that is found in the umbilical cord of newborn infants. It is named after Thomas Wharton, an English physician who first described it in the 17th century. Wharton's jelly is a specialized connective tissue that surrounds and protects the blood vessels within the umbilical cord. This connective tissue contains high amounts of extracellular matrix components including collagen types I, III, and V, elastin, and fibronectin that provide a natural scaffold to facilitate cellular adhesion. It also contains a natural source of long-chain hyaluronic acid as well as numerous cytokines and growth factors. Studies have described placental tissues to be “immune privileged” as they rarely evoke an immune response in the body, reducing the risk of adverse reactions.
What are Mesenchymal Stem Cells?
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a type of multipotent adult stem cells that can be found in various tissues of the body, including bone marrow, adipose tissue, umbilical cord, and dental pulp. They have the ability to differentiate into a variety of cell types, such as bone cells (osteoblasts), cartilage cells (chondrocytes), and fat cells (adipocytes).
MSCs are characterized by their self-renewal capacity, which means they can divide and produce more stem cells, as well as their ability to differentiate into specialized cell types. They also possess immunomodulatory properties, meaning they can regulate the immune response and reduce inflammation.
Understanding the Benefits of Wharton’s Jelly
To fully understand the benefits of Wharton’s Jelly let’s use an analogy to understand the value this connective tissue provides to the body.
Much like the foundation for a house, the foundation for all connective tissue in the human body is collagen. It is one of the most widely distributed and concentrated substances in the musculoskeletal system. Your “house” is a foundation of skin, joint cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and even bone. All of these elements are collagen based.
To create the floor of a home, you have to lay down a complex network of cement board that acts as an anchor for any stone, wood or laminate that is laid on top. The floor of the human musculoskeletal system is a similar complex network of interwoven extracellular matrix fibers. These fibers are the micro architectural framework and floor for collagen formation. That extracellular matrix is composed of collagen type I, III, growth factors, cytokines and proteoglycans. These are the exact same constituent components in Wharton's Jelly.
The Walls and Roof:
The walls and roof of a home give it strength, structural integrity and allow a home to withstand the elements. Wharton's Jelly acts in the exact same manner in the umbilical cord. In the perinatal period, Wharton's Jelly serves to supplement the structural integrity of the umbilical cord while cushioning and supporting the umbilical cord vessels that supply all the essential nutrients to a growing fetus.
With time and stress, even the most robust of foundations starts to show its age. No different than the collagen in our face or our joints, things tend to break down over time. To heal the “cracks” in your foundation, the body goes through a fibrin based healing process. That process leaves a scar. Think of any time you cut yourself, that defect in your “structural tissue” heals with a scar. But imagine if that healing didn’t have to “scar”. All healing in the body can follow one of two paths. One is fibrin based and leads to a scar. The other is collagen based, and restores the original relevant characteristics and strength of the native tissue.
Wharton's Jelly has the building blocks necessary to “patch” those age related and trauma related defects in your connective tissue.
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