An experimental treatment involving stem cells from umbilical cords could significantly reduce deaths and quicken recovery time for patients suffering the most severe form of Covid-19, a study suggests.
US researchers reported a 91 per cent survival rate in seriously ill patients given the stem cell infusion, compared to 42 per cent in a second group who did not receive the treatment.
The study conducted by scientists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found 100 per cent of patients aged under 85 were still alive a month after treatment with mesenchymal umbilical stem cells.
Researchers said the treatment also appeared to be safe, with no serious adverse reactions reported.
The study, published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, involved 24 patients at University of Miami Tower or Jackson Memorial Hospital. Each received two infusions given days apart of either mesenchymal stem cells or placebo.
“It was a double-blind study. Doctors and patients didn’t know what was infused,” said Dr Camillo Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “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 added: “The umbilical cord contains progenitor stem cells, or mesenchymal stem cells, that can be expanded and provide therapeutic doses for over 10,000 patients from a single umbilical cord. It’s a unique resource of cells that are under investigation for their possible use in cell therapy applications, anytime you have to modulate immune response or inflammatory response.”
Giacomo Lanzoni, lead author of the paper and assistant research professor at the Diabetes Research Institute, said the findings were “critically important not only for Covid-19 but also for other diseases characterized by aberrant and hyperinflammatory immune responses, such as autoimmune type 1 diabetes”.
He added: “If we could infuse these cells at the onset of type 1 diabetes, we might be able to block the progression of autoimmunity in newly diagnosed subjects, and progression of complications in patients affected by the disease long-term.”
The next phase of the research will study the impact of the stem cells on patients with worsening but not yet severe Covid-19 to establish whether the treatment halts the progression of the disease.