Umbilical Cord Tissue: Bank On It

Davies, Jed

Professor John E. Davies might call himself a bonehead—but his contributions to the commercialization of stem cell research are pure genius.

In 2005, Davies and his Bone Interface Group (the “bone-heads”) discovered a method to extract an abundant source of rapidly proliferating mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from the tissue around umbilical cord blood vessels. These stem cells can regenerate the musculoskeletal tissues of the body and can also be effective in treating a wide range of immune and inflammatory diseases.

Until this discovery, bone marrow was the only reliable source of MSCs, and their extraction was laborious, painful and resulted in only a small quantity of cells. Davies’ research shows that cord tissue MSCs are more abundant, biologically more active, and expand easily. As Davies puts it, they “grow like grass.” Certainly this was a rich discovery from tissue that was previously seen as medical waste.

Davies created a spin-off company, Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics (TRT), and patented human umbilical cord perivascular (HUCPVC) technology, the process by which MSCs are extracted. In July 2006, TRT licensed the technology to CReATe Cord Blood Bank in Toronto; thousands of parents in Canada have banked their children’s perivascular cells. In the fall of 2011, TRT licensed the this technology to PerkinElmer’s ViaCord , the most reputable cord blood bank in the US. TRT and ViaCord will also collaborate on research into the therapeutic benefits and anti-inflammatory properties of TRT’s MSCs.

Davies is no newcomer to the commercialization of biomedical engineering breakthroughs. His group also developed OsteoScaf , a novel biodegradable bone regeneration scaffold that was successfully brought to market. Now in clinical use for over three years in Brazil, a manufacturing facility has been completed in Texas and commercial US production is expected to begin soon.

Davies, who trained as an oro-maxillo-facial surgeon, is a professor of dentistry and biomaterials at the University of Toronto. He received the degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) from the University of London, in 1998, for his sustained contributions to the field of biomaterials, and was the 2002 recipient of the Society for Biomaterials Clemson Award for Basic Science. He was elected a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering in 2000. In the mid-80’s, he devised the first in vitro biological methods to study the mechanisms of bone bonding to bioactive ceramics. His work has led to an understanding of the mechanisms by which bone grows on implant surfaces and within tissue engineering scaffolds. He has developed ceramics that can be resorbed by osteoclasts, technology adopted by the Canadian Space Agency to investigate the cellular mechanisms of microgravity-induced osteopenia. Along with the research that led to OsteoScaf and HUCPVC, he also investigates calcium phosphates that stimulate increase in local bone mass.

Learn more about biomaterials research at IBBME.