Certain cells within the body have powerful therapeutic properties. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in particular, are one cell type scientists are studying extensively in order to create therapies for diabetes and various other conditions.
Now, these special cells hold promise for treating seriously ill patients suffering from complications of COVID-19.
As therapeutic cells, once administered, MSCs have the ability to find and sense sites of injury, responding with the adequate combination of molecules to re-establish health. Research shows these local responses involve reducing inflammation through controlling the immune system activity, promoting tissue repair, and enhancing growth of new blood vessels, among other mechanisms.
Combatting a pandemic
These are all critical factors when treating medical conditions involving alterations of the immune and the vascular systems, as well as the survival of transplanted insulin-producing cells in diabetes patients. But can the anti-inflammatory effects of these cells prevent the life-threatening progression of COVID-19?
The science suggests the severe lung inflammation associated with COVID-19 can be blocked with a simple intravenous infusion of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells (UC-MSCs). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted immediate authorization for an international team of scientists to conduct a first-of-its-kind clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of this treatment.
Clinical trial cost spared
With the FDA’s swift authorization, planning moved forward with a waste-no-time approach. But the cost of clinical trials can be staggering.
Phase I of the patient trial began in April with an initial infusion of funds from The Cure Alliance, a nonprofit group focused on finding cures for debilitating diseases, and Barilla, the Italian food company. However, without additional funding, the trials would not have been able to continue.
That’s when North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) stepped up in a big way. For 35 years, NABTU has been a partner of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and Foundation, helping to fund research toward a cure for diabetes, including the DRI’s prior work with MSCs.
Within days of learning about this new clinical trial, NABTU raised $3 million to help fund the Phase II effort, and their support continues. NABTU’s members are currently seeking mechanisms to raise the $30 million that will be required to expand the stem cell manufacturing capability at a newly designed facility at the DRI. The goal is to effectively treat thousands of people at no cost.
The trials are based at the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System in Miami, with collaborating partners around the world. In times like these, it is more important than ever to break down barriers to research and share knowledge in order to accelerate cures.