The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has spread like fire across the globe in less than a year – affecting more than 90 million people and causing 2 million+ deaths. The rapid spread of the disease and explosive death rate sped off groundwork on the treatment of the viral infection. However, the virus continues to infect more and more people worldwide and killing thousands affected people on a daily basis.
The scientific studies and clinical trials on specific Covid therapies have yielded both positive and negative results for a handful of medicines and interventional therapies. According to an emergency use authorization (EUA)by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), doctors are authorized to use the drug “Baricitinib,” combined with “Remdesvir,” (an earlier approved and commonly used anti-viral drug) for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 (both suspected and laboratory-confirmed) cases that require respiratory support.
Although this combination therapy was found effective in reversing Covid complications and reducing recovery time, the death rate due to viral infection is still on the rise – which has led experts to explore new treatment options to reduce mortality (death rate) and shorten the recovery time. Regenerative medicine is one of such novel therapies which focuses on biological mechanisms to rejuvenate the dying tissues and modify the immune system.
Potential Benefits of Stem Cells Therapy for COVID-19 Treatment
Health experts are currently exploring the role of MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) in reversing organ failure and tissue damage caused by a Covd-19 virus. These are un-differentiated cells that have the ability to differentiate into different body cells. MSCs are of special interest in stem cell based therapies as they are linked to lowering the risk of death from the disease.
There are multiple mechanisms involved in death caused by Covid-19 virus – including septic shock, formation of blood clots, and multiple organ failure. According to researchers, MSCs has the ability to regulate the immune system and they can prevent cytokine storm – the inflammatory cycle in the body that’s responsible for most Covid complications. Medical trials also show that MSCs improve optimal lung functioning by protecting against harmful pathogens, free radicals, and other inflammatory substances.
Researchers around the world are currently working on more than 60 clinical trials to investigate the role of MSCs in the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Countries such as the US, Spain, Germany, France, UK, and Brazil are showing interest in treating Covid with this biological therapy. According to the reports, at least two of these trials have shown that this therapy is safe and effective for easing symptoms of Covid-19 viral infection.
A recent study conducted in China showed that all participants (laboratory-tested patients of Corona Virus) experienced reduced severity of the symptoms and an overall improved clinical outcome following a single dose of MSCs. A large sample size (31 patients) was studied in another clinical trial which showed that all Covid-19 positive participants experienced reduced cytokine storm and improved lung function after a single dose of MSCs infusion. Following MSCs administration, there were no side effects or health complications reported in both studies.
According to another interesting trial at ADSCC (the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre), patients who received MSCs infusion therapy were found to recover three times more faster than those who only received conventional therapy. The trial concluded that 67% participants who received MSCs therapy recovered fully compared to others who received conventional anti-viral therapies.
Potential Challenges of Stem Cell Treatment for COVID-19
While stem cell therapy is emerging as a useful treatment option to ease symptoms and reduce death rate in seriously ill patients, it is also facing several challenges and controversies.
First, the data is still insufficient to prove that MSCs therapy is 100% safe and effective. The studies and clinical trials conducted so far involved a small size and without appropriate controls. Furthermore, the patients treated in these trials were also given conventional anti-viral therapies along with stem cell infusion – which raises the question on safety and efficacy of MSCs. It also questions the usefulness of stem cell-based therapies as it is difficult to determine whether the outcomes were due to conventional treatments or stem cell therapy. Therefore, we need multicenter studies and clinical trials with a large sample size and proper randomization to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of MSCs for Covid-19 virus.
Second, the delay in producing a substantial number of MSCs to treat patients is another major challenge. Many scientists argue that the stem cell production procedure takes a considerable amount of time and it is of no use – considering the context of current emergency situation.
Another hurdle is the processing of clinical-granted stem cells in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-compliant facilities. It is a major challenge for several developed as well as developing countries. Furthermore, stem cells are collected from umbilical cord, placenta, and bone marrow; therefore, it is extremely challenging to select the right donors that can provide the substantial number of cells.
Additionally, MSCs therapy is very expensive and not every patient with the disease can afford it. Experts have also raised concerns about an increased risk of infections in patients with immunodeficiency. Another potential hurdle is the growing concern that MSCs can stimulate drug resistance. Studies have linked reduced drug efficacy in cancer patient who received more than one doses of stem cell-based therapy.
These are some of top reasons why many scientists and doctors become reluctant when it comes to treating Covid-19 patients with stem cell therapy. Addressing these challenges and a proper support by the government could open a new world for stem cell treatment in the near future.
Due to their optimal regenerative and immunomodulatory properties, stem cell-based therapies offer a promising treatment to patients with Covid-19 infection. Currently, MSCs are being used to treat cytokine storm in critically ill Covid patients. However, with more research and acceptance, MSCs have the potential to become a standard treatment option for not only Covid-19 but other bacterial and infections as well.
For more information, get in touch with the Stem Cells Transplant Institute!