Stem Cell Therapy: A Promising Treatment for COVID-19?
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Stem cell therapy is making its way into COVID-19 treatment. Its use seems to be particularly efficient in the case of severely ill patients, as demonstrated by a study conducted at the Beijing YouAn Hospital recently published in the peer reviewed journal Aging and Disease, and as emerged after the press conference hold by Sun Yanrong, deputy head of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Bioscience Institute – a company specializing in stem cell isolation, expansion and cryopreservation –reported the results of the Beijing study on the diseases associated with novel coronavirus (SARSCoV-2) infection as they were anticipated before their publication. Now its authors confirm that “The intravenous transplantation of MSCs [Mesenchymal Stem Cells] was safe and effective for treatment in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, especially for the patients in critically severe condition”. And according to Sun Yanrong, stem cell treatment has already been used in more than 200 cases in the most affected city in China, Wuhan.
Stem cell treatment: how it works
Stem cell treatment efficacy lies on the immunomodulatory effect of stem cells. In particular, as emerged from the Aging and Disease study, MSCs may help counteract the so-called cytokine storm, an uncontrolled rise of the immune response resulting in the increase of inflammation mediators (cytokines).
During a cytokine storm the immune system goes into overdrive and the patient's tissues and organs can be fatally damaged. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a common sign of a cytokine storm. In COVID-19 patients it corresponds to the severe oxygen deprivation that requires mechanical ventilation.
Cytokine storm seems to be a good target for severe COVID-19 cases treatment. Nowadays, other drugs, such as tocilizumab, act on this phenomenon. In particular, tocilizumab has already been approved both in China and the USA for the treatment of severe COVID-19 and is used in clinical trials in Europe.
Stem cells against COVID-19: beyond China
Stem cell treatment has already crossed China’s borders too. A few days before Sun Yanrong press conference, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened the way to the compassionate use of MSCs intravenous infusions in patients with COVID-19 ARDS and a very dismal prognosis.
“There are lots of clinical trials that explored, or are planning to explore, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of MSCs”, Giuseppe Mucci, CEO of Bioscience Institute, highlights.
“Cytokines are important mediators of the inflammatory process, and MSCs are believed to regulate their production. In particular, they seem to be involved in the downregulation of proinflammatory cytokines and in the upregulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Their use is safe, and studies in larger cohorts of patients will validate their benefits”.
Bioscience Institute is ready to contribute to this validation. “We are working on a protocol for a MSCs treatment with stem cells isolated and expanded at our facilities. With our long-standing experience in the field of stem cells isolation, expansion and cryopreservation, Bioscience Institute laboratories are among the most advanced in the world”.
Compassionate use of MSCs approved by FDA will utilize allogeneic (from a donor) stem cells. However, anyone can build up its own MSCs reserve. “They can be easily obtained from several tissues, but fat is considered the best source ever”, Mucci explains. “To obtain the huge cell numbers needed for COVID-19 treatment it is fundamental MSCs expansion. That is why it is not sufficient to rely on a cell bank: only a cell factory like Bioscience Institute is able to guarantee the banking of a quantity of MSCs useful for such a treatment”.