Eight patients were successfully treated in China. Among them, 2 were critically ill. The first that defeated Covid-19 with mesenchymal stem cells is a 65-year-old woman. Other 7 patients were successfully treated for the new coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2) infection in Beijing.
Experimental treatments against the new coronavirus
Several experimental treatments against the new coronavirus are under clinical evaluation: antiviral drugs, steroids, traditional Chinese medicine, serum from healed patients. Someone thought stem cells could have been a valuable solution too, and his hypothesis turned out to be a viable option.
The news comes from chinaXiv.org, the Chinese open repository for scientific researchers maintained and operated by the research library service of the Chinese Academy of Science. Here, a team of experts led by Bing Liang from Baoshan People’s Hospital published the details of the case of a critically ill 65-year-old Chinese woman infected with Sars-CoV-2, whose conditions significantly improved after the infusion of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Not only, as reported once again in chinaXiv.org, 7 Covid-19 pneumonia patients (1 critically severe, 4 severe and 2 common) were treated with MSCs at Beijing YouAn Hospital, and their functional outcomes significantly improved.
Stem cells and Covid-19
At least 14 trials using stem cells to treat coronavirus patients were reported in China. Animal tests suggested stem cells might be able to repair the severe organ damage caused by Sars-CoV-2. Moreover, MSCs have shown very significant immunomodulation. In particular, these stem cells can secrete many cytokines (molecules that participate in inflammatory processes) and can directly interact with immune cells. Their immunomodulatory action is further triggered by virus-associated molecules.
The clinical trial conducted in Beijing demonstrated that MSCs are naturally immune to Sars-CoV-2. They secrete anti-inflammatory factors that seem to counteract the mechanisms at the base of the virus-induced organ damage.
No side effects
Nor Baoshan People’s Hospital infusion nor treatments conducted in Beijing resulted in obvious side effects, demonstrating that MSCs are well tolerated. Moreover, both critically ill patients conditions significantly improved, with reduction in inflammation, improved respiration and white blood cells count, reduced pneumonia infiltration, and negative Sars-CoV-2 presence tests.
According to Beijing experts, MSCs would act by improving lung microenvironment, inhibiting immune system overactivation, promoting tissue repair, protecting lung alveoli epithelial cells, preventing pulmonary fibrosis, and improving lung function.
Huge numbers of stem cells
According to Liang and colleagues, umbilical blood cord-derived MSCs infusion «might be an ideal choice to be used or combined with other immune modulating agents». However, to obtain such results, experts utilized huge numbers of MSCs. The Baoshan patient received 3 infusions of 50 million umbilical blood cord-derived MSCs, whereas each Beijing patients received 1 infusion of 1 million cells per kilogram of weight. Such huge numbers can be obtained only in a cell factory able not only to purify and preserve stem cells, but also to efficiently expand them.
As highlighted by Giuseppe Mucci, CEO of Bioscience Institute (a leader company in stem cells cryopreservation), «these studies confirm the efficacy and the safety of mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of critical immunodeficiency associated with high systemic inflammation too. Immunomodulatory and antiinflammatory properties of these cells in the treatment of respiratory system degenerative processes were confirmed by 15 completed clinical trials, and more than 50 new trials will explore them. Scientific research is highlighting that these cells can not be substituted by other drugs in the treatment of respiratory system degenerative process».
Mesenchymal stem cells are characterized by an enormous advantage. «They can be obtained from fat», Mucci explains. «That means that everyone can utilize his/her cells, eliminating any contamination or rejection risk. But expanding them to the quantity needed for infusion, that corresponds to at least 1 million cells per kg of weight, takes 2 to 3 weeks. That is why it is useful to cryopreserve a personal reserve of mesenchymal stem cells, that would allow to access an early, more successful, treatment».