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Stem cell therapies and severe Covid – A fascinating discovery


Chemistry graduate and Ph.D student Michael Greenwood has written a fascinating article about recent clinical trials into stem cell therapies which could help treat severe Covid. Thanks to him and to News-Medical.net for publishing the article, which we’ve translated into plain English for you. 

Dangerous immune responses to severe Covid

Severe Covid messes with the body’s innate and adaptive immune systems, which can lead to serious inflammation and even organ failure. Generic antiviral treatments and oxygen treatments are common. However, antibody therapy has proved useful. The downside? The side effects of these methods mean they can’t be used with vulnerable patients infected with other kinds of viruses. 

Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies are thought to be much safer. They’ve already been successful in treating flu in animals. A growing number of clinical trials into MSC therapies for Covid have been underway since the start of the pandemic. 

The results? It looks a lot like MSC treatment is ‘highly tolerated’ (safe) and effective in reducing Covid-related lung damage, and that means people’s chances of recovery are improved.

Using stem cells to treat serious Covid 

Severe Covid causes a dramatic drop in the number and frequency of circulating CD4+ (T Cells, white blood cells that fight infection and play an important role in your immune system) and CD8+ T-cells (mediators of adaptive immunity), as well as the body’s natural killer cells, all of which help us fight the virus. The more severe the case of Covid, the worse the potential impact of this reduction is.

MSCs have well-known regenerative properties. They are naturally attracted to places where the body is inflamed. They fine-tune several types of immune cells that calm down the excessive immune responses some people suffer when dealing with severe Covid.  In all seven studies so far, plus three patient trials, the effectiveness of MSCs for moderate or severe Covid was ‘well tolerated’. 

Umbilical cord blood provides the necessary stem cells 

The MSCs used in the research came from the umbilical cord, fat tissue, bone marrow, menstrual blood, and embryos. The cells were injected into the body of patients in very specific doses over three different sessions. The results:

  • The patients’ lungs were able to breathe in more oxygen   
  • People had better partial pressure of oxygen levels – in other words better oxygen pressure in their arterial blood  
  • They saw improvements in other clinical areas
  • They enjoyed a ‘significant’ reduction in Covid-related symptoms
  • They encountered lower inflammatory cytokine levels – good news because when the body’s immune system malfunctions you can suffer a cytokine storm, which can be deadly 
  • In one study the volume of lung fibrosis lesions reduced ‘notably’ 

A previous study revealed dramatic improvements in lung lesions

An earlier study using umbilical cord-derived MSCs involved 101 patients in Wuhan, China, who were hospitalised with Covid. The volume of the solid lumps in their lungs (solid-component lesions) dropped significantly during the 28 day period after the treatment. The distance the patients managed to walk over six minutes improved too. There were very few ‘adverse events’ or side effects. This suggests the therapy is safe and ‘could be beneficial for Covid-19 patients’.

Using umbilical cord stem cells to treat severe Covid 

Because most of the studies done so far involve fewer than 100 patients, the numbers aren’t totally reliable. We’ll need bigger studies before we get statistically accurate results. Because the studies were conducted in different places, under different conditions and according to different laws, the benefits aren’t 100% clear… yet. But the early signs are good.  

Future studies will look a lot closer at:

  • The administrative side of trials
  • The size of doses
  • The number of doses
  • Their frequency
  • Exactly when during a person’s illness they’re given the treatment
  • How to store the MSCs safely
  • Whether they’re best used fresh or frozen. 

While MSC therapy will never replace vaccination, it could prove essential in treating people with Covid-led lung damage as well as plenty of other diseases where the patient is at risk of an excessive immune response and inflammation. Hopefully the planned Phase III clinical trials will deliver the certainty needed.

The magic of umbilical cord stem cells 

In the meantime, as trials continue, thousands of mums-to-be are deciding to collect and store their umbilical cord cells for the future. Will you join them? We already understand how these amazing cells can treat any number of diseases, and it’s great to know that severe Covid could eventually join the list. 

Get in touch with the team today to find out more.

BSc (Hons) Microbiology

Chief Executive Officer | Biovault Family

Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.


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