Back To News

Stem Cells: Exciting New Treatment Possibilities for COVID-19 Patients

August 7th, 2020

To date, there have been about 13 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and about 571,000 deaths—and those numbers keep escalating every single day. One reason why coronavirus is so dangerous is that there is no cure available yet. However, researchers around the world are hard at work developing possible treatments, many of which involve stem cells such as the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from extracted teeth. In fact, there are over 50 clinical trials registered with that are focused on studying the use of MSCs in patients with COVID. Furthermore, the FDA has been committed to granting “compassionate use” approval to these stem cell trials, enabling scientists to move forward quickly with their studies. And according to the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), nearly a quarter of study respondents informed the ISSCR that their research labs had refocused their priorities on COVID-related research.

Understanding Coronavirus and Its Pathophysiology

COVID is a remarkably frightening disease because it has the potential to severely affect multiple areas and systems of the body, causing both short-term and long-term health complications. Cardiologist Harlan Krumholz of Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital stated: “(COVID) can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” Here’s a brief look at the pathophysiology (abnormal changes to the body’s functions) of COVID:

  • Upon transmission, the virus makes itself at home in the lining of the nose, which is rich in angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). COVID requires ACE2 to enter cells, where it can then replicate and invade other cells.
  • The virus progresses down the windpipe to the lungs, where it potentially turns deadly and disrupts normal oxygen transfer.
  • Chemokines (inflammatory molecules) are released to kill the virus, leaving fluid and pus behind and potentially causing pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), resulting in a high death rate.

In addition to pneumonia and ARDS, coronavirus can cause acute liver, kidney, and cardiac injuries, as well as septic shock—just to name a few potential complications. Clinicians believe that one major reason for COVID’s deadliness is its role in causing a cytokine storm. A cytokine storm occurs when the immune system is trying to fight off a deadly invader and essentially overreacts. It floods the bloodstream with cytokines (proteins that are like immune system messengers). This cytokine storm is an inflammatory response that attacks the body’s own healthy tissues, causes blood clot development, and can result in more harm than the virus alone would have caused. Furthermore, the cytokine storm can continue long after the virus has been vanquished.

Exploring MSCs for the Treatment of COVID-19 Lung Injuries

Calming the cytokine storm will likely prove critical in developing effective treatments for COVID patients. In fact, studies are already underway on these treatments. One of them is a stem cell therapy drug called remestemcel-L. It was developed by Mesoblast Limited, which is currently testing the drug in the University of Maryland Medical System on patients with ARDS who require ventilators to breathe. The goal of the study is to determine whether this stem cell therapy drug can lower mortality rates and reduce the total time spent on a ventilator. This particular drug is thought to work by inhibiting the production of cytokines.

The Mesoblast Limited-funded study is expected to involve about 300 patients and is still ongoing. Another much smaller study has already been completed with promising results. Early in the year in a Beijing hospital, clinicians administered MSC transplantations to seven hospitalized COVID patients with pneumonia. Within two days, their symptoms and pulmonary function were greatly improved. Within six days, the over-activated cytokine-secreting immune cells vanished. Furthermore, the patients did not report any adverse effects from the MSC transplantations.

Many researchers believe that mesenchymal stem cells could be the most promising treatment option for COVID patients. This is because the immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of MSCs make them particularly effective at suppressing the cytokine storm. Furthermore, MSCs are known to have a superior safety profile.

Considering How Stem Cells May Aid Coronavirus Vaccine Development

It’s important to be able to treat coronavirus effectively, given its high death rate and risk of long-term complications. However, it’s even more important to figure out how to stop the transmission from occurring in the first place so that life can get back to normal in a safe manner. Some researchers are turning to stem cells for solutions to the challenges with COVID vaccine development. Before scientists can develop an effective and reliable vaccine, they need a firm understanding of exactly how COVID-19 affects the immune system. This is because all vaccines work by triggering the immune system to guard against the invading cells. In order for a vaccine to do its job, it needs the right components that will trigger that immune system response and result in long-term immunity.

More than one COVID vaccine is currently in development, and the majority of them rely on triggering the immune system to produce antibodies. However, some researchers believe an effective vaccine could work by activating the immune system’s T cells. This mechanism can prove invaluable for activating long-term protection.

Immunotherapy researchers at UCLA have been taking blood-forming stem cells from healthy donors and infecting them with COVID antigens. Using a new method developed at UCLA, the researchers then trigger the stem cells to produce type 1 dendritic cells. These dendritic cells are particularly adept at provoking a strong T cell response. Some of those T cells will become memory T cells—they stay in the body for years to come, preserving immunity against coronavirus.

Staying Safe While at the Dental Office

Mesenchymal stem cells can be harvested from extracted baby teeth and wisdom teeth. If you’re a parent who is interested in banking your child’s teeth-derived MSCs for future medical uses, you should know that you don’t necessarily have to wait to get started. Always check with your state and local restrictions and recommendations first, and call your child’s dentist to ask about their safety precautions. To keep your child as safe as possible while at the dentist, consider the following:

  • Reschedule your appointment if either you or your child exhibits any symptoms, including an elevated temperature.
  • Arrive on time—not early—to minimize time spent in the waiting room.
  • Wear a mask at all times and have your child wear a mask until the dentist says he or she can remove it.
  • Stay at least six feet apart from non-household members whenever possible.

Far from being purely experimental, mesenchymal stem cells are proving to be powerhouses in the fight against COVID. Tooth Bank is proud to be a leading provider of MSC technology. We connect parents to MSC extraction and preservation services for their children, empowering them to preserve medical options for years to come. Contact us today to learn more about MSC preservation with Tooth Bank.