Three critically ill COVID-19 patients at Baptist Hospital in Miami were the first in the U.S. to be successfully treated with stem cells.
The patients were suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, and doctors infused them intravenously with cells derived from the lining of umbilical cords.
These are called mesenchymal stem cells and within days after the infusion, the patients who needed 100% oxygen on ventilator support, saw their requirement slashed in half. This significant reduction was also accompanied by a drop in inflammatory markers, meaning that the harmful inflammation crippling the lungs was not only arrested but reversed, according to Baptist Health South Florida.
“The remarkable ability for these cells to mitigate inflammatory processes holds great promise for COVID-19 patients as well as for people with other illnesses,” said Dr. Guenther Koehne, deputy director and chief of blood and marrow transplant at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health, and principal investigator of the study.
All three patients were critically ill and suffered from serious co-morbidities as well as other underlying conditions.
According to Technology Networks, stem cell therapy is proving to be efficient in treating severely ill COVID-19 patients in other parts of the world as well. Sun Yanrong, deputy head of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development said that stem cell treatment has already been used in more than 200 cases in the most affected area of China, the city of Wuhan.
“Our preliminary results show that therapy with these cells could be a game changer for COVID-19,” said Dr. Javier Perez-Fernandez, a pulmonologist and director of critical care at Baptist Hospital. “I’m very excited about this treatment because I really think it’s going to work. And if it works as we expect, it’s going to change dramatically the way we treat these patients.”
The stem cells are grown from umbilical cord tissue by California-based RESTEM, a biotechnology company that has a patent for the umbilical cord mesenchymal cells, according to the Miami Herald.
Researchers have been investigating the effect of those cells on autoimmune diseases for over a decade, to determine whether they are effective in reversing what’s known as a cytokine storm, where the immune system goes into overdrive attempting to fight a virus and winds up attacking its own cells instead.
The Baptist Health study is being reviewed for the Food and Drug Administration, which approved the clinical trial under an emergency approval.
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