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Covid-19: Stem cells from babies' umbilical cords may help most ill


Stem cells from newborn babies’ umbilical cords could be used to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients – more than doubling their chances of survival

  • A double blind study saw 24 covid-19 patients given a placebo or stem cells
  • All of the patients were suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome 
  • Those given the cells were twice as likely to recover and did so more quickly 
  • Each umbilical cord contains enough stem cells to treat 10,000 patients 

Stem cells found in the umbilical cords of newborn babies could provide a life saving treatment for people with a severe case of coronavirus, according to scientists.

A study by the University of Miami found that using stem cells on patients under the age of 85 doubled their chances of surviving Covid-19 and worked in every case.

Stem cells heal respiratory systems due to their unique ability to self-renew and repair damaged tissue, with enough cells in a single umbilical cord to provide 10,000 patients with the life saving treatment, researchers claim. 

Senior author Professor Camillo Ricordi, of the University of Miami said they hold the key to a cheap and effective cure for the potentially lethal coronavirus.  

”It’s like smart bomb technology in the lung to restore normal immune response and reverse life-threatening complications,’ Ricordi said.

Stem cells heal respiratory systems due to their unique ability to self-renew and repair damaged tissue, with enough cells in a single umbilical cord to provide 10,000 patients with the life saving treatment, researchers claim. Stock Image

Stem cells heal respiratory systems due to their unique ability to self-renew and repair damaged tissue, with enough cells in a single umbilical cord to provide 10,000 patients with the life saving treatment, researchers claim. Stock Image

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, was based on 24 patients admitted to University of Miami Tower or Jackson Memorial Hospital.

They had developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome after contracting the virus – each was given two injections days apart of a placebo or stem cells. 

Patient survival at one month was 91 per cent in a group treated with stem cells – compared to 42 per cent in those given a placebo. 

The only person who died despite having the treatment was over the age of 85.

The team also found time to recovery was faster in those given the treatment – with more half of those treated going home within two weeks of the final dose. 

And over 80 per cent were completely free of symptoms in a month, versus less than 37 per cent of the others given a placebo instead of the stem cell treatment.

Ricordi said in the study neither doctors nor patients knew who had the stem cells. 

‘Two infusions of 100 million stem cells were delivered within three days, for a total of 200 million cells in each subject in the treatment group,’ he said.

There were no ‘infusion-related’ serious adverse side effects from the treatment, according to the team behind the study. 

Stem cells have antimicrobial activity that promotes tissue regeneration, mending the lungs and other organs, Ricordi said, and so they’ve been investigating the benefits they can have on conditions like Type 1 Diabetes for a decade. 

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Lead author Giacomo Lanzoni said: ‘Our results confirm their powerful anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory effect,’ adding the cells inhibited the ‘cytokine storm’ that can cause death in patients with severe Covid-19. 

When given intravenously, the cells migrate naturally to the lungs – where therapy is needed in those with acute respiratory distress syndrome.  

Many researchers have said stem cell therapy is an inevitable trend for treating virus-induced pneumonias such as the new coronavirus.

Patient survival at one month was 91 per cent in a group treated with stem cells - compared to 42 per cent in those given a placebo. Stock Image

 Patient survival at one month was 91 per cent in a group treated with stem cells – compared to 42 per cent in those given a placebo. Stock Image

Ricordi said: ‘We approached the Food and Drug Administration and they approved our proposed randomised controlled trial in one week.’

He now plans to use the stem cells in patients who have not yet become severely ill but are at risk of requiring ventilation to see if they stop disease progression. 

Ricordi and his Diabetes Research Institute Cell Transplant Center is planning to create a large repository of mesenchymal stem cells that are ready to use and can be distributed to hospitals and centres in North America. 

‘These could be used not only for Covid-19 but also for clinical trials to treat autoimmune diseases, like Type 1 Diabetes,’ said Ricordi.

‘If we could infuse these cells at the onset of Type 1 Diabetes, we might be able to block progression of autoimmunity in newly diagnosed subjects, and progression of complications in patients affected by the disease long-term.’ 

The findings of the double blind study have been published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

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