MSCs are the stem cells that give rise to the connective tissues of the body which are found in a range of human tissues , including the umbilical cord. Furthermore, a number of clinical trials are currently underway investigating the use of these MSCs in the treatment of COVID-19. However, it is important to note that clinical trials are used to determine the success of a potential treatment and prior to their completion, any opinion on whether the treatment is effective, would be speculative. With this in mind, we will provide more information on why scientists believe MSCs may help in the treatment of COVID-19 and why many clinical trials around this have begun.
Research has shown that the most dangerous stage of COVID-19 is during the development of a severe acute respiratory infection. It is during this stage that scientists believe that MSC’s could prove to be useful. MSCs have previously shown to possess both a high regenerative potential as well as anti-inflammatory properties and have a regulating effect on the immune system. Overstimulation of the immune system, as it attempts to kill the virus, can lead to a so-called a cytokine storm. Cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation. A cytokine storm is an overreaction of the body’s immune system, it goes into overdrive and excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released, this leads to the activation of more immune cells leading to hyperinflammation which can cause great harm.
This overreaction contributes significantly to the potentially fatal effects of COVID-19, as instead of the immune system treating the disease, it ends up causing harm, including fluid build-up (oedema) in the lungs, acute respiratory distress, acute cardiac injury, organ damage and secondary infections. Therefore, avoiding or reducing this cytokine storm is key in the treatment of COVID-19 infected individuals.
Previous MSC based clinical trials have revealed that intravenously administered MSCs move to and accumulate in the lungs. It is therefore believed that these stem cells trapped in the lungs, could have a positive effect by reducing the hyper inflammation and counteracting the cytokine storm, allowing a patient to recover and prevent further damage and even cure lung dysfunction.