Stem cells could possibly be a weapon in the fight against coronavirus

HOUSTON – For many, the COVID-19 pandemic is a learn as you go situation. Experts are trying all sorts of experimental treatments to try and help COVID-19 patients recover. Now they are hoping stem cells may play a role.

Stem cell treatments are speculated to be a healing miracle since these cells can repair diseased cells. As doctors study the Novel Coronavirus, they’re hoping stem cells might help reverse the deadliest complications such as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS.

“That’s something that occurs after the trauma of any type - pneumonia’s of any type, trauma, lung injury, inhalation injuries where you inhale smoke,” explains Dr. Charles Cox, UTHealth/Memorial Hermann. “Big picture we say you have a 50% mortality if you have established ARDS.”

With ARDS, the lungs fill up with fluid and cannot supply oxygen to the body. UT Health Dr. Charles Cox is hoping stem cells can help. The first COVID-19 patient with ARDS is now taking part in a UTHealth Stem Cell Therapy Study. The procedure took place on April 16, 2020, at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

“We wouldn’t anticipate seeing a substantial turn around in terms of lung function for at least 72, 96 hours,” explains Dr. Cox. “A good rule of thumb is you are probably not going to better quicker than you got sick.”

A total of 120 patients will be enrolled in the national, multisite trial, which is led by Michael Matthay, MD, at the University of California-San Francisco.

“Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to modulate the inflammatory response that plays a key role in the development of ARDS. This makes them a very promising therapy for treating patients with the severe respiratory failure we are seeing in COVID-19 patients,” said Laura J. Moore, MD, co-principal investigator of the Texas site of the national trial and professor in the Department of Surgery with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

For the UTHealth arm of the study, the hMSCs are processed at the Evelyn H. Griffin Stem Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory at McGovern Medical School. Dr. Cox said the study could be expanded to include more patients.