Chinese researchers are studying the use of stem cell technology in the treatment of people critically ill with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to the Science and Technology Daily.
Four COVID-19 patients who received stem cell treatment while in a serious condition have been discharged from hospital after recovery, and the clinical trial of the therapy will be further expanded, Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping, was quoted by the paper as saying.
Stem cells can self-renew or multiply while maintaining the potential to develop into other types of cells. They can become cells of the blood, heart, lungs or other body parts.
Stem cells also have a strong secretory function, promoting the formation of new blood vessels, cell proliferation and differentiation and inhibiting inflammatory response, experts say.
Stem cell therapy has been used in the treatment of some infectious diseases and complications. For instance, it has been tried in treating H7N9 avian flu and showed good results.
According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a new stem cell drug, CAStem, which has shown promising results in animal experiments. The research team has applied for urgent assessment by the National Medical Products Administration. Approvals by the ethics committee, and clinical observation and evaluation are in progress.
A research team from the fifth medical center of the Chinese PLA General Hospital is cooperating with hospitals and institutions in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, and north China's Tianjin Municipality to conduct clinical research on the safety and effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cell therapy in treating COVID-19 patients.
A research team at the School of Medicine of the Tongji University is studying on universal lung stem cell therapy that can be widely used in the epidemic control. The therapy is expected to enter the clinical stage in the near future.
Zuo Wei, head of the research team and the chief scientist of a national key research project on stem cell, said currently the research mainly focuses on improving the condition of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
He said when the patients are in a severe condition, the cause of deterioration and even death is the "inflammatory storm," when the human immune system is over-activated by the infection. It will damage the lungs and impair breathing. Some severe patients may have respiratory failure.
"Lung inflammation and injury are the focus of the treatment of severe patients," Zuo said.
The damage to lung tissue can be fatal, and stem cell therapy is expected to help repair the damage, Zuo said.