Could stem cell technology be used in the treatment of people critically ill with the coronavirus?
Science and Technology Daily has reported that Chinese researchers are currently studying this.
Four Covid-19 patients who received stem cell treatment while in a serious condition have been discharged from hospital in China after recovering, Science and Technology Daily has reported.
The treatment used mesenchymal stem cells which are the adult stem cells traditionally found in the bone marrow and other tissues including cord blood, peripheral blood, fallopian tube, and fetal liver and lung.
Why stem cells?
When most people think about stem cells treating disease they think of a stem cell transplant.
In a stem cell transplant, stem cells are first specialised into the necessary adult cell type. Then, those mature cells replace tissue that is damaged by disease or injury. This type of treatment could be used to:
• Replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological problems;
• Produce insulin that could treat people with diabetes or cartilage to repair damage caused by arthritis; or
• Replace virtually any tissue or organ that is injured or diseased.
But stem cell-based therapies can do much more including the treatment of Novel Coronavirus Severe Pneumonia, as revealed on clinicaltrials.gov.
Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to:
- Self-renew and multiply
- Maintaining the potential to develop into other types of cells.
- Become cells of the blood, heart, lungs or other body parts.
- Perform a strong secretory function, promoting the formation of new blood vessels, cell proliferation and differentiation
- Inhibit inflammatory response, experts say.
How can umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells treat Covid-19?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that usually cause mild illnesses, such as the common cold. However, certain types of coronavirus can infect the lower airway, causing serious illnesses like pneumonia or bronchitis. Most people get infected with coronaviruses at some point in their lives and the majority of these infections are harmless.
Stem cell therapy has also been used in treating H7N9 avian flu and showed good results.
A research team from the fifth medical centre of the Chinese PLA General Hospital has been conducting clinical research on the safety and effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cell therapy in treating Covid-19 patients, with the research focusing on improving the condition of critically ill Covid-19 patients.
When the patients are in a severe condition, the cause of deterioration and even death is the “inflammatory storm”, when the human immune system is over-activated by the infection.
That will damage the lungs and impair breathing and some severe patients may have respiratory failure.
Lung inflammation and injury are the focus of the treatment of severe patients, and damage to lung tissue can be fatal.
Stem cell therapy is expected to help repair the damage.
Currently, three kinds of stem cells – mesenchymal, lung and embryonic stem cells – are used in treatments. Researchers usually inject stem cell products into the lungs.
Stem cells can improve the immune microenvironment in the lungs and reduce the risk of pulmonary failure caused by inflammation.
New Scientist – https://www.newscientist.com/term/coronavirus/
www.clinicaltrials.gov (2020) – Mesenchymal Stem Cell Treatment for Pneumonia Patients Infected With 2019 Novel Coronavirus
www.clinicaltrials.gov (2020)- Study of Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the Treatment of Novel Coronavirus Severe Pneumonia