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Doctors think they’ve discovered another potential coronavirus cure

Published Apr 28th, 2020 2:04PM EDT
Coronavirus USA
Image: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Doctors treating severe COVID-19 cases in New York attempted stem cell therapy on 12 patients, 10 of whom came off ventilators after receiving treatment.
  • It’s unclear whether the novel coronavirus disease can be cured with stem cells, but researchers at Mesoblast are going to conduct a clinical trial on 300 severe patients to find more answers.
  • Anecdotal evidence indicates that stem cells can be helpful, but the science behind it has to be explained.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus might not have a cure right now, but it’s still worth acknowledging the massive research effort that goes into discovering treatments that can limit COVID-19 complications and prevent death. Doctors have observed the positive effects of a garden variety of drugs that are supposed to treat other illnesses, and some of these medicines are included in massive trials around the world. Scientists are also working on over 70 vaccine candidates for COVID-19, with some of them already showing promising results. On top of that, there’s plasma from survivors that’s rich in antibodies that can help people with weaker immune systems. And doctors think they’ve discovered another promising treatment for COVID-19: Stem cells.

You often hear about stem cells and those reports are often miraculous in nature. Stem cells are human cells that have the “superpower” to transform into almost any cell of the body and they can be used to treat some medical conditions. Stem cells could regenerate lung tissue, fight inflammation, and help severe COVID-19 patients breathe on their own again. The problem with this line of thinking is that we just don’t know.

Doctors at Mount Sinai treated 12 patients with stem cell therapy, and 10 of them came off their ventilators soon after, CBSNews reports. The doctors themselves have no idea what helped the patients improve, and can’t definitively say that it’s the stem cells that saved their patients.

“What we saw in the very first patient was that within four hours of getting the cells, a lot of her parameters started to get better,” Dr. Karen Osman told CBS. The doctor made it clear that they can’t claim the stem cell treatments are what saved the patients. “We don’t know,” she said. “And we would never dare to claim that it was related to the cells.”

The doctor explained that only a randomized controlled trial would be able to tell them whether the stem cells can help with the recovery of COVID-19 patients. Thankfully, one such study is about to get underway. Mesoblast will trial stem cell treatments on 300 patients suffering from severe lung inflammation.

Osman and her team believe that stem cells extracted from bone marrow could suppress the inflammation in COVID-19 patients, and that’s why they attempted the therapy. One such patient was 60-year-old Luis Naranjo who spent 14 days unconscious on a ventilator and lost 25 pounds while hospitalized of COVID-19. Naranjo has completely recovered following stem cell therapy, and he’s at home working on regaining his strength.

If it works, stem therapy would still not be a “miracle treatment,” Osman says. “The miracle treatment will be a vaccine.” While we wait for any sort of efficient COVID-19 treatment, here’s a simple explainer for stem cells:

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.