While the terms mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) and marrow stromal cell have been used interchangeably for many years, neither term is sufficiently descriptive:
In 1924, Russian-born morphologist Alexander A. Maximow used extensive histological findings to identify a singular type of precursor cell within mesenchyme that develops into different types of blood cells.
Scientists Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till first revealed the clonal nature of marrow cells in the 1960s. An ex vivo assay for examining the clonogenic potential of multipotent marrow cells was later reported in the 1970s by Friedenstein and colleagues. In this assay system, stromal cells were referred to as colony-forming unit-fibroblasts (CFU-f).
The first clinical trials of MSCs were completed in 1995 when a group of 15 patients were injected with cultured MSCs to test the safety of the treatment. Since then, over 200 clinical trials have been started. However, most are still in the safety stage of testing.
Subsequent experimentation revealed the plasticity of marrow cells and how their fate is determined by environmental cues. Culturing marrow stromal cells in the presence of osteogenic stimuli such as ascorbic acid, inorganic phosphate and dexamethasone could promote their differentiation into osteoblasts. In contrast, the addition of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-b) could induce chondrogenic markers.
Bone marrow was the original source of MSCs, and still is the most frequently utilized. These bone marrow stem cells do not contribute to the formation of blood cells and so do not express the hematopoietic stem cell marker CD34. They are sometimes referred to as bone marrow stromal stem cells.
The youngest and most primitive MSCs can be obtained from umbilical cord tissue, namely Wharton's jelly and the umbilical cord blood. However MSCs are found in much higher concentration in the Wharton’s jelly compared to cord blood, which is a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells. The umbilical cord is available after a birth. It is normally discarded and poses no risk for collection. These MSCs may prove to be a useful source of MSCs for clinical applications due to their primitive properties.