A recent small clinical trial has shown that umbilical cord stem cell treatment improves the survival rate of patients on ventilators due to COVID-19. In fact, patients treated with stem cells were 2.5 times more likely to recover compared to patients who did not receive the stem cell treatment.
Over 2.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide. These vaccines significantly reduce the risk of serious outcomes from contracting COVID-19, and they are allowing us to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are still many people that are becoming critically ill with COVID-19, so the search for new and improved treatment options continues. This article provides a summary of a small clinical trial using umbilical cord stem cell treatments to enhance the survival rate of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
A focus on critically ill patients on ventilators
The recent clinical trial conducted in Jakarta specifically focused on COVID-19 patients who were critically ill and on ventilators. This was a double-blinded study, which means that neither the patient nor any of the healthcare providers knew who had received the stem cell treatment and who had received a control.
All of the 40 patients involved also received standard therapies to treat COVID-19, but only 20 patients received stem cells (experimental group), while the other 20 patients received a saline solution (control group).
Enhanced survival rates
The primary outcome of this study was the survival rate. Of the 20 patients who received stem cell treatment, 10 patients survived and recovered from COVID-19. While only 4 patients in the control group survived. So although this is a small sample size, it does show a 2.5 times higher survival rate for patients who received stem cells in addition to standard COVID-19 therapies.
Many people badly affected by COVID-19 also have other illnesses, such as diabetes. This study showed that the administration of stem cells actually increased the survival rate even more in this subset of patients, with an increased survival rate of 4.5-fold compared to patients in the control group with other illnesses.
This small study shows that providing COVID-19 patients on ventilators with an intravenous injection of stem cells in addition to standard therapy may increase their chance of survival.
How do umbilical cord stem cells increase the survival rate of COVID-19 patients?
Severe COVID-19 infections are characterized by what is called a “cytokine storm”. Basically this means the patient’s own immune system goes into overdrive and causes a lot of tissue damage, particularly in the lungs. This recent study of critically ill COVID-10 patients showed that stem cell treatment was associated with lower levels of IL-6 (a type of cytokine). This is thought to help achieve a tolerance state where the “cytokine storm” subsides to some extent. Previous studies have also shown how a particular type of stem cells (known as mesenchymal stem cells) may be effective for reducing inflammation seen in lung disease, so a similar effect is predicted here.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact all around the world. Even though the results from this small clinical trial will need to be reproduced in much larger clinical trials, it definitely offers much-needed assurance on our ability to handle COVID-19 in the future.
Dilogo, IH, Aditianingsih, D, Sugiarto, A, et al. Umbilical cord mesenchymal stromal cells as critical COVID-19 adjuvant therapy: A randomized controlled trial. STEM CELLS Transl Med. 2021; 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1002/sctm.21-0046