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Coronavirus Q&A: Dr. Camillo Ricordi Gives Update On Trials Of Stem Cell Treatment For Most Severe COVID-19 Cases

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A team of doctors at the University of Miami is working on what could be groundbreaking therapy for treating some COVID-19 patients.

With a focus on those suffering with severe lung inflammation, they're using the umbilical system cells to treat patients.

For an update on how it's progressing, Dr. Camillo Ricordi, a University of Miami professor and stem cell therapy researcher, joined Eliott Rodriguez and Rudabeh Shahbazi via Skype.

Q: This therapy is building off a 10-patient study in China and the results of that study are limited. So what information gave you hope that this would work on a broad scale?

A: Well, the information from this initial study have been incredibly encouraging. The editor in chief of the journal that did editorial on the paper presented commented as extraordinary results, but that need to be validated by law by lots of clinical trials. So we're happy that FDA approved us to do such clinical trial at the University of Miami. And the nice thing is that we'll have the results in a very short time because these cells is like injecting anatomy of cells, 200 million cells, into those that will be fighting the complication of the infection and will know within weeks the there is a positive effect.

Q: How many patients are in the trial? When did you start? Have you seen any results so far?

A: We did. We have 24 patients in this initial trials. We didn't start the first patient, there have been only patients that are on compassionate release so far. And the initial results are coming from China and Israel. But we are ready to go. We have the terms the six doses already ready to be delivered and other 25 doses are ready to follow. So we have over as far as cell supply for the entire clinical trial, and we hope to have results very soon.

Q: So for the layman like us, can you explain how, why the stem cells infused in a vein end up in a lung?

A: Yeah, actually, this is a nice feature because when we do these trials, I directed Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, so, traditionally, we did this trial for type 1 diabetes or for kidney disease. But in this case, when you inject the cells IV, intravenously, the first filter that is the lungs. So naturally the cells are trapped by the lungs as much as 95%. So in the case of targeting the pancreas or the kidney, you have to do an interventional radiology procedure to put a catheter in there that goes to these organs. But when you target the lung, this is a natural way of delivery and these cells form naturally to the lung. In addition, the cells sense inflammation and tissue injury, and hone, they go targeting specifically the site of tissue injury and inflammation. So in this case is even more relevant that in a simple intravenous, like a blood transfusion, will exactly target the lung, that is the organ that we want to treat

Q: How long do you expect to have to wait before you know if this was working?

A: Well, we know from the radiologic examination of the lungs from the studies in China, for example, that within days… a resolution of the lung pathology.

Q: What is the typical recovery rate for COVID patients who have been put on a ventilator and is that meant to treat patients before they get to that critical stage?

A: Well, the typical recovery rate that we expect with this treatment is within a week we should know. So this is not a trial that we are required, like months or years of follow up to see if there is a beneficial effect or not. We are confident that within days or a week you will know if this is working or not as soon as we start.

Q: Is this is therapy meant to complement other forms of therapy?

A: I think it will definitely be used as a combination therapy. We don't exclude any other therapy as part of the combination therapy. With another agent that may help fight this is immune reaction, this pro-inflammatory reaction and also the problem that you see in micro-thromboembolism and the coagulation problem that you see in these patients. So I think is in a way is a unique therapy because it's not just for COVID-19, but it's for any virus targeting the lung with this massive reaction. So it will be something that we are planning in the future to create the repository for rapid intervention and integrated response to any pandemic or a situation in which you have an emergency that you need to treat an injury to the lung of such dimension. But in the meantime, when there is not a pandemic situation, you can use these cells. We have trials ongoing that has been authorized by the FDA for type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer, for kidney disease. So it's a cell type that can be used in many other situations to start normal organ function, not just COVID-19.

Q: If this succeeds, how big of a deal is it?

A: If this succeeds, it will be a way to treat the severe cases of COVID-19 while we wait for a vaccine. But also to have a repository of cells that will be able to treat any other possible pandemic or epidemic where the lung will be a target of the viral attack. In this case, you have an army of cells that are ready to be used and fight this viral infection and all the consequences that can induce in the lungs.

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