Severe COVID-19 Cases Repaired With UC-MSC Transfusion

The findings have important implications for studies in other diseases such as Type 1 diabetes.

A groundbreaking discovery has been made in the search for treatments of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Investigators at the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Cell Transplant Center, along with a team of international collaborators, have discovered that umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell (UC-MSC) infusions safely reduce the risk of both death and the time to recovery for severe cases of the disease.

Published in the journal STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, the randomized, controlled, double-blind trial included 24 participants who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. The patients all received a placebo or 2 transfusions of 100 million mesenchymal stem cells delivered within 3 days of each other.

"The umbilical cord contains progenitor stem cells, or mesenchymal stem cells, that can be expanded and provide therapeutic doses for over 10,000 patients from a single umbilical cord. It's a unique resource of cells that are under investigation for their possible use in cell therapy applications, anytime you have to modulate immune response or inflammatory response," Camillo Ricordi, leader of the study said. "We've been studying them with our collaborators in China for more than 10 years in Type 1 Diabetes, and there are currently over 260 clinical studies listed in clinicaltrials.gov for treatment of other autoimmune diseases."

The findings from the trial demonstrated the stem cell transfusion was safe and had no serious infusion-related adverse events. After treatment, the survival rate at 1 month was 91% compared to 42% in the placebo group. Patients who received the therapy and were under the age of 85 had a 100% survival rate at 1 month. More than half of the patients treated recovered within two weeks of the treatment and were discharged from the hospital, and more than 80% of the group recovered by day 30, compared to just 37% in the control group.

The team plans for further research into stem cells and COVID-19, specifically focusing on the treatment for those who have not yet become severely ill. Investigators want to determine whether or not the transfusion could potentially prevent the progression of the disease. The Cell Transplant Center is hoping to create a repository of mesenchymal stem cells which can be made available for distribution.

"Our results confirm the powerful anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory effect of UC-MSC. These cells have clearly inhibited the 'cytokine storm', a hallmark of severe COVID-19," Giacomo Lanzoni, lead author of the paper said. "The results are critically important not only for COVID-19 but also for other diseases characterized by aberrant and hyperinflammatory immune responses, such as autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes."