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Groundbreaking Trial Shows Umbilical-Cord Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cell Infusions Save Lives of Sickest COVID-19 Patients

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 18 Jan 2021
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Image: Camillo Ricordi, M.D., director of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (Photo courtesy of University of Miami Health System)
Image: Camillo Ricordi, M.D., director of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (Photo courtesy of University of Miami Health System)
A unique and groundbreaking randomized controlled trial has shown that umbilical-cord derived mesenchymal stem cell infusions safely reduce risk of death and quicken time to recovery for the severest COVID-19 patients.

Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (Miami, FL, USA) who led the study believe that treating COVID-19 with mesenchymal stem cells makes sense. Mesenchymal cells not only help correct immune and inflammatory responses that go awry, they also have antimicrobial activity and have been shown to promote tissue regeneration. When given intravenously, mesenchymal stem cells migrate naturally to the lungs. That’s where therapy is needed in COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a dangerous complication associated with severe inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs.

In the new study, 24 hospitalized COVID-19 patients who had developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome each received two infusions given days apart of either mesenchymal stem cells or a placebo. Researchers found the treatment was safe, with no infusion-related serious adverse events. Patient survival at one month was 91% in the stem cell treated group versus 42% in the control group. Among patients younger than 85 years old, 100% of those treated with mesenchymal stem cells survived at one month.

The researchers also found that recovery was faster among those in the treatment arm. More than half of patients treated with mesenchymal stem cell infusions recovered and went home from the hospital within two weeks after the last treatment. More than 80% of the treatment group recovered by day 30, versus less than 37% in the control group. The next step is to study use of the stem cells in COVID-19 patients who have not yet become severely ill but are at risk of having to be intubated, to determine if the infusions prevent disease progression.

“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,” said the study’s senior author, Camillo Ricordi, M.D., director of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “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.”

“Our results confirm the powerful anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory effect of UC-MSC (umbilical-cord derived mesenchymal stem cells). These cells have clearly inhibited the ‘cytokine storm,’ a hallmark of severe COVID-19,” said Giacomo Lanzoni, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and assistant research professor at the Diabetes Research Institute. “The results are 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.”

Related Links:
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine


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