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Dialing down a rampaging immune system with newborn stem cells

The reason, it has been established, was because of a hyperactive immune system causing cytokine storms, which wreak havoc in patients. A cytokine storm occurs when a cell pathway isn turned on, leading to the production of a number of biological mediators (wsignal transmitters) that cause changes to the body and interfere with normal cell function.

Despite this understanding, there are currently no approved therapies to treat cytokine storms from COVID-19. Because of this, scientists — including Dr. Jamie Shamonki (CMO at Generate Life Sciences) and Dr. Leonard Sender (SVP of Medical Affairs at NantKwest) — are turning to the potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), where initial studies are promising.

These stems cells are multipotent stromal cells, with the ability to differentiate into a variety of cell types, including osteoblasts (bone cells), chondrocytes (cartilage cells), myocytes (muscle cells) and adipocytes (fat cells).

MSCs weaken cytokine storms

In severe COVID-19 patients, the over-aggressive response and cytokine storms lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and eventually organ damage, oxygen depletion and even death. MSCs may prove to be invaluable in combating this scenario because of two key functions they perform:

They migrate to the damaged areas of the lungs and release anti-inflammatory molecules in a specific pattern that can quell the hyperactive active immune cells and dampen their damaging effects.

They can stimulate repair of the injured lung tissue and reverse some of the damage caused by COVID-19.

In essence, these two functions can counter what COVID-19 does to the lungs, which is why there are nearly 60 ongoing clinical trials investigating the use of MSCs in COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Sender’s team has realized that this utility has potential but they soon ran into a problem: fresh MSCs were hard to come by during a pandemic as the number of donors quickly fell. For this reason, the research group partnered with Dr. Shamonki, who operates a group who specialize in frozen umbilical cord tissue MSCs.

The application of frozen cord tissue MSCs ensures there is a supply of cells readily available to study or manufacture on-demand, eliminating the need for sourcing fresh cells.

Based on the new source, scientists at the Generate and NantKwest teams are preparing for a clinical trial studying cord tissue MSCs for COVID-19.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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