A new study published by the Journal on Aging & Disease reports that intravenous administration of clinical-grade human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19) resulted in improved functional outcomes (Leng et al., Aging Dis, 11:216-228, 2020).

This study demonstrated that intravenous infusion of MSCs is a safe and effective approach for treating patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, including elderly patients displaying severe pneumonia. COVID-19 is a severe acute respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Currently, treating COVID-19 patients, particularly those afflicted with severe pneumonia, is challenging as no specific drugs or vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are available.

Therefore, MSC therapy inhibits the overactivation of the immune system and promotes endogenous repair by improving the lung microenvironment after the SARS-CoV-2 infection found in this study is striking. Here's what the study entailed, and what it means for the future:

Overview of the Study

The Covid-19 infection has been a challenge for all of us. Since there is not yet a definitive treatment, the world has been relying on containment through physical isolation. What we do know is that the Covid-19 virus causes a very strong inflammatory response in the infected person’s body. We also know stem cells carry potent anti-inflammatory properties and induce regeneration and repair by clearing out inflammation. Given this knowledge, the use of stem cells to treat Covid-19 seems like an avenue worth exploring.

Overview of the Results

Ten Covid-19 positive patients with moderate to severe symptoms were included in the published study. Seven of the patients received intravenous infusion of Mesenchymal stem cells. Three patients in the control group did not receive stem cells. All seven patients who received the stem cell infusion demonstrated improvement in their symptoms and recovered from the Covid-19 infection. Among the three patients in the control group who did not receive stem cells, one patient died and the other two continued to show severe progression of their signs and symptoms at the time of the publication.

What’s Next?

Clearly, one study with a small number of patients cannot be considered definitive proof of effectiveness. However, it does provide us with a step forward towards a more extensive study involving many more patients. The safety of properly harvested stem cells have been proven. The risk of an adverse event is low. Tapping into the anti-inflammatory potential that stem cells have in order to treat a highly inflammatory process such as Covid-19 infections seems logical next step. We hope regulatory authorities both at federal and state level will allow well-scrutinized clinical trials to further assess the role stem cells can play.