By Kate Sneddon, CEO, Biovault Family
Nature Magazine is one of the world’s best-respected scientific publications. It’s designed for scientists and stacked with detailed data about every imaginable scientific endeavour, from physics to genomics and everything in between.
They’ve recently published an article looking at the impact of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) taken from the human umbilical cord on Covid patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). These patients are at risk of a deadly cytokine storm and related lung damage. The results are fascinating and we’ve translated them into plain English for you.
Treating severe Covid symptoms with stem cells
Several recent double-blind, randomised, controlled tests have shown infusions of human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells given to Covid patients with ARDs. This will help to reduce the cytokine storm and lung damage.
The results are ‘significant’ but we need to carry out more phase 2 and 3 trials to prove the impact of the MSCs beyond doubt. We also need find out more about the impact of the treatment on Long Covid.
When Covid becomes serious
The early symptoms of Covid are usually mild to moderate: a fever, cough, loss of smell and taste, aching muscles, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If you’re unlucky enough to become very poorly and suffer acute respiratory distress syndrome, cytokine storm, or pneumonia, your risk of death soars. Older people and those with previous health problems are at higher risk of cytokine storm and immunothrombosis.
Why do some people become severely ill with Covid?
If you develop a high level of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor in your lungs it can lead to serious illness, potential cytokine storm, edema, trouble exchanging air in the lungs, ARDS, secondary infections, and death. There’s also ACE2 expression in the heart, liver, kidney, and digestive system. This means people with acute Covid can also suffer heart damage and arrhythmia, acute kidney injury, shock, and death.
How are seriously ill Covid patients usually treated?
At the moment ARDS patients are given high-flow oxygen therapy, intensive care and mechanical ventilation, a delicate and challenging task. There are a few new drugs under development that may help with treatment and vaccines are very effective. But the healthcare sector still needs to find ways to reduce death rates in severely ill Covid patients. Safe, effective treatments for severe Covid complications like ARDS, cytokine storm, and pneumonia are essential for saving lives.
What studies in China and Mexico revealed
Research in China and Mexico shows infusions of human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells come with better outcomes for Covid patients. Seven patients with covid pneumonia enjoyed ‘improved functional outcomes’ and recovered after being given intravenous clinical-grade human UC-MSCs.
One of the patients treated was suffering critically severe pneumonia, four had severe pneumonia and two had common types of pneumonia. And this was the first time we saw real evidence of the potential of MSC therapy in Covid survival. After that several new clinical trials were launched to find out more.
The results of subsequent studies
Other studies revealed infusing MSCs was safe for Covid patients. One looked at five patients with severe ARDS who had not improved in 48 hours despite having the best care available. Treatment with MSCs had noticeable anti-inflammatory effects in the lungs, with improved respiratory function. Sadly the research didn’t include double-blind, randomised, controlled trials so the results aren’t statistically reliable.
Another study, published in the Stem Cell Translational Medicine journal, was the first double-blind, phase 1/2a, randomised and controlled trial of MSC treatment for Covid patients. It revealed infusions of UC-MSCs were safe for covid patients with complications like ARDS and cytokine storm. None of the 12 patients studied experienced serious side effects.
It also looks like the cytokine storm could be ‘restrained’ through MSC infusions in Covid patients with ARDS. And while MSC infusions didn’t reduce the viral load it ‘significantly dampened’ the concentration of multiple proinflammatory cytokines. All this suggests Covid survival rates for people who develop ARDS could be ‘improved substantially’ with MSCs. Overall the treated group enjoyed 91% survival compared to 42% survival in the control group, and that’s an impressive finding as well as a significant advance.
Another recently published, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial on Covid patients with lung damage saw 49 people with a reduced lung lesion volume compared to 25 patients who were given a placebo. This suggests the therapy could safely be given to Covid patients with lung damage along with current treatments.
About MSCs and stem cell therapy
MSCs are already widely used in stem cell therapy. They’ve been studied countless times in relation to all manner of diseases and illnesses. They’re already used to treat immune system-related inflammatory diseases like such as graft-versus-host disease, type 2 diabetes and spinal cord injury. The cells act on a variety of immune cells, transforming them from a pro-inflammatory state to non-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Now it looks a lot like they may also suppress cytokine storms and support lung regeneration.
Critical issues to address
These clinical trial results make the case for Covid patient MSC infusions stronger. But there are still a few important issues to address via future trials in ARDS patients. We need more trials with larger, more statistically relevant numbers of patients.
In the meantime we’re excited to learn the results of another trial, whose results have yet again validated some of the beneficial effects of MSC infusions, this time in 49 covid patients aged on average 59–60. This should help reveal whether MSC infusions are safe and effective in older Covid patients aged 65 or more.
The ideal dosage also needs to be pinned down, and future studies also need to assess whether MSC infusions in covid patients with ARDS or other complications prevent long Covid symptoms. We need more phase two and three trials exploring the outcomes of MSC infusions for reducing mortality and preventing long covid, too. Because MSCs ease neuroinflammation and promote regeneration in organs like the lungs, brain, and heart, this is essential, cutting-edge science.
Come back for more science – and consider umbilical cord blood banking!
Watch this space – we’ll let you know the outcomes of future trials, and those currently taking place. In the meantime, will you think about collecting and storing your new baby’s umbilical cord blood to help save their life and family members’ lives in future? It’s simple, it’s quick, and we can store your precious cells for 25-50 years.
These mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) could help to sure more in the future. Your little ones could benefit from having these cells stored with us. Interested? Find out more – download our brochure or call 01752 753723.
BSc (Hons) Microbiology
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.