11 January 2021

Transfusing umbilical-cord derived stem cells to patients with severe COVID-19 has significant benefit, US researchers have reported.

The mesenchymal stem cells appear to safely halt the cytokine storm, characteristic of Covid-19, speeding recovery for the most severely ill patients, and reducing risk of death.

Dr Camillo Ricordi and colleagues from the Miami Miller School of Medicine carried out a randomised controlled trial comparing mesenchymal stem cell infusion against placebo, in 24 patients hospitalised with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome due to COVID-19. The findings are published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Dr Ricordi explains: "Two infusions of 100 million stem cells were delivered within three days, for a total of 200 million cells in each subject."

After one month, 91% of patients the stem cell treated group had survived, compared with 42% in the placebo group. All patients below 85 years of age were still alive one month after treatment..

Recovery was also faster in the stem-cell treated group. Over half of patients given mesenchymal stem cells were able to leave hospital within two weeks, with more than 80% recovering by day 30, versus below 37% in the control group.

Dr Ricordi says: "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.”

Lead author, Dr Giacomo Lanzoni, adds: "Our results confirm the powerful anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory effect of these cells. They have clearly inhibited the cytokine storm, a hallmark of severe COVID-19.

"The results are critically important not only for COVID-19 but also for other diseases characterised by aberrant and hyperinflammatory immune responses, such as autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes."

The next step is to study the use of the stem cells in COVID-19 patients who have not yet become severely ill but are at risk of having to be intubated, to determine if the infusions prevent disease progression.


Lanzoni G, Linetsky E, Correa D, Messinger Cayetano S, Alvarez RA, Kouroupis D, Alvarez Gil A, Poggioli R, Ruiz P, Marttos AC, Hirani K, Bell CA, Kusack H, Rafkin L, Baidal D, Pastewski A, Gawri K, Leñero C, Mantero AMA, Metalonis SW, Wang X, Roque L, Masters B, Kenyon NS, Ginzburg E, Xu X, Tan J, Caplan AI, Glassberg MK, Alejandro R, Ricordi C. (2020) “Umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells for COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome: A double-blind, phase 1/2a, randomized controlled trial.” Stem Cells Translational Medicine doi: 10.1002/sctm.20-0472

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