What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells exist naturally in the body to support the healing process. They are essentially “blank” cells that can be directed to serve a specific purpose. Whenever an injury takes place, stem cells convert into the specific type of cell or tissue that needs to be repaired. They migrate inside the bloodstream, anchor themselves to the damaged tissues, and secrete their own chemicals to stimulate healing.
Stem cells are also known as powerful anti-inflammatory agents. As they heal injured tissues and reproduce into other cells, stem cells also reduce inflammation so that healing can occur as efficiently as possible.
Stem cell therapy aims to strengthen the activity or natural stem cells by injecting additional stem cells into the body. This makes it possible to deliver thousands or even millions of stem cells where only a few hundred would have naturally existed. Such a unique collaboration between stem cells accelerates the healing process.
Promises of Stem Cell Therapy in Action
Stem cell therapy isn’t receiving as much spotlight as other treatments like remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine, but some hospitals do report promising anecdotal results.
According to a report from Miami, Florida, doctors at Baptist Health South Florida successfully treated three critically COVID-19 patients using an experimental stem cell treatment.
“I’m very excited about this treatment because I really think it is going to work,” said Dr. Javier Pérez-Fernández, critical care director at Baptist Health who helped choose the three patients, based partly on their conditions. “And if it works as we expect, it’s going to change dramatically the way we treat these patients.”
Clinical Research Studies Focus on Stem Cell Therapy
The FDA recently approved a Phase 1/2a trial designed to assess the use of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells for treating patients with severe COVID-19. This 60-patient study will be performed randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled to identify if umbilical cord lining stem cell therapy is safe and effective treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
“Based on the initially observed improvement of the patients [on ventilators] treated, we are now looking forward to enrolling these severely ill patients onto the clinical trial,” said lead investigator Guenther Koehne, Md, PhD, deputy director of the Miami Cancer Institute.
At least 35 other clinical trials are studying the potential safety and efficacy of COVID-19 stem cell therapy as well, but not all are exploring umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells like Koehne and his team. Other types of stem cells involved in clinical trials include:
- Allogeneic human dental pulp mesenchymal stem cells
- Allogeneic adult mesenchymal stem cells of expanded adipose tissue
- Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells
- Allogeneic haematopoietic stem cells
Given the many variables between types, sources, and origins of stem cells, plus the range of stem cell therapy techniques and protocols, far more data is needed to draw conclusions regarding the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapy for COVID-19.