Although there’s still uncertainty about treatments and therapies against Coronavirus, it seems that experts can all agree on the seriousness of the damage that the infection causes to the lungs. Stem cells (in powdered form) could play a very important role in healing processes.

Just a few weeks ago we published an article on mesenchymal stem cells from an interview with Dr. Astori, Head of the Advanced Cellular Therapy Laboratory (LTCA) at Vicenza Hospital (Italy). Today, we focus on mesenchymal stem cells, particularly what they contain, which is called secretome.

Secretome, derived from Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSC), is an advanced cell-free therapy. It means that instead of using whole cells, as in the case we mentioned recently, we use a mix of soluble proteins, lipids, genetic material and other molecules, obtained by manipulation of mesenchymal stem cells. Remember that these cells are found in various tissues such as marrow, fat, umbilical cord and placenta. A research group of the Cell Delivery System Lab of the University of Pavia (Italy), led by Dr. Maria Luisa Torre, has been working on secretome for several years.

The team at the University of Pavia, developed a technique to obtain a “powdered” secretome, and studies developed in Pavia and other centers, have demonstrated the effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cell administration in various lung diseases. For example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

How could secretome as a therapy against SARS-CoV-2 be effective?

Remember that COVID-19 is a disease that strongly affects the lungs and it manifests itself with very important inflammatory effects that cause, in turn, devastating effects on the lung and other organs. Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to regulate the immune and inflammatory response. In addition, the research group at the University of Pavia, noted that secretome in animals with other lung diseases also has antifibrotic effects, thus reducing pulmonary thickening.

It logically follows from this that treatment with mesenchymal stem cells could be very useful — not only in seriously ill patients with COVID-19 — but also in the recovery phase of patients with fibrotic-cyclical outcomes. In fact, it’s estimated that about 30% of people who have had a COVID-19 infection and recover, could develop chronic lung problems as discussed during the recent virtual congress of the Italian Society of Pneumology and StemNet, the Federation of Stem Cell Research Associations and the Italian Stem Mesenchymal Group (GISM).

The research group of the Cell Delivery System Lab of the University of Pavia has just published an article in an important scientific journal, in which they explain why and how secretome could be effective — also in patients with very serious COVID-19 forms — and also for people who, although recovered, have experienced lung tissue damage. At the moment, these are hypotheses but they’re supported by animal studies conducted by the Pavia team and clinical trials in China that are evaluating tolerability in patients.

What are the advantages of “powdered” secretome?

The use of powdered secretome has clear advantages over the liquid-form secretome currently in use.

  • It’s more standardized; in other words, we know exactly which substances are present and in what concentration.
  • It costs less than the quantity that could be produced.
  • It could be administered with intravenous injections, once resuspended with saline or even simply inhaled as a spray.
  • It could be more easily used in developing nations that don’t have access to more expensive therapies.

Finally, even once we have the vaccine, the damage from COVID-19 will be seen for a long time on patients who’ve developed chronic lung problems, so therapy that can heal this lung damage would be extremely useful in improving the quality of life of patients and reduce the economic impact on the health-care system.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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