The doctor who treated seven-time World Champion driver, Michael Schumacher with stem cell therapy following his traumatic brain injury is now using the same treatment to help treat coronavirus.

Back in June, renowned clinical cardiac surgeon, Professor Philippe Menasché, performed pioneering stem cell treatment on the Formula 1 icon. Schumacher is said to have received transfusions of stem cells to reduce inflammation and help regenerate his nervous system after sustaining a life changing brain injury almost 7 years ago.

Now, Dr Menasché says that the same stem cell treatment could also be used to help to treat coronavirus. The surgeon explained that this stem cell treatment is now currently being developed to treat pneumonia and inflammation relating to COVID-19 and could help to reduce the virus’ inflammatory response in the body, which can be fatal.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Professor Menasché said “Covid causes a major inflammatory response, which can lead to death. The cells have strong tissue and reduce this inflammatory response.”

In reference to Schumacher’s treatment, he also explained that stem cells can rescue damaged cells caused by brain injuries as their powerful strength can aid protection of tissue.

“There has been a recent study of 2,000 patients who received the treatment for a variety of diseases. There were no side effects and the treatment did not trigger a reaction. This means it is very safe.”, he added.

What are stem cells?

Often referred to as the ‘building blocks of life’, stem cells are powerful master cells of the human body. These stem cells have two unique properties – the ability to self-renew indefinitely and the power to divide into specialised cells.

This means that stem cells have the unique ability to develop into many different cell types within the body, including various blood cells, nerve and muscle tissue and even cartilage.

Researchers have discovered several sources of stem cells; however, the most commonly used stem cells often derive from adult stem cells which can be found in sources such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood.

Umbilical cord blood is one of the richest sources of stem cells that we will ever have access to. Cord blood contains billions of powerful stem cells, including mesenchymal stem cells, which are already used to treat over 80 different diseases in stem cell therapy.

Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine which aims to repair or regenerate damaged and diseased tissues and cells within the body by reducing inflammation, promoting healing and modulating the immune system. The powerful regenerative potential of stem cells has made stem cell therapy a viable treatment option for a variety of medical conditions.

Why use stem cells to treat COVID-19?

This is not the first time that stem cells have been put forward as a potential treatment for the virus. Known for their powerful abilities to self-renew and transform into various cell types, stem cells have become increasingly used in clinical trials with the aim of reducing acute lung injury and inhibiting the inflammatory response caused by COVID-19.

In particular, mesenchymal stem cells, which can be found umbilical cord blood, have shown promising results in initial data of several small-scale studies.

Preliminary data of these studies has shown that mesenchymal stem cells may have the ability to eliminate the virus, calm the hyper-reaction of the immune system and ultimately repair the damaged caused by COVID-19, as suggested by Professor Menasché.

One study involving 7 patients with COVID-19 used intravenous mesenchymal stem cell transplantation to treat coronavirus symptoms. All seven patients who received the mesenchymal stem cells recovered.

Another study reported in the Lancet also used mesenchymal stem cells to treat 13 critically ill COVID-19 patients. Data from the trial revealed an 85% survival rate, with x-rays demonstrating that the mesenchymal stem cell treatment repaired damaged lung tissue. In some cases, this improvement was evident within 48 hours of receiving the stem cell treatment.

Whilst these results are promising, more larger-scale studies are needed to further validate this data. With an increasing number of clinical trials within the field of stem cells and COVID-19, we can hope to see some further results in the coming months.

References

Choudrey & Harris, (2020) “Stem cell therapy for COVID-19: Possibilities and challenges”, Cell Biology International, available at:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/cbin.11440

National Institutes of Health, (2020) “COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines”, Mesenchymal Stem Cells, available at:
https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/immune-based-therapy/blood-derived-products/mesenchymal-stem-cells/

Bishop, (2020) “Michael Schumacher’s doctor uses F1 legend’s pioneering stem-cell treatment to help others fight coronavirus” The Sun, available at:
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12974322/michael-schumacher-doctor-stem-cell-treatment-coronavirus/

Russel, (2020) “Michael Schumacher’s doctor uses F1 legend’s treatment for crucial COVID remedy”, Express, available at:
https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1349634/Michael-schumacher-health-update-schumacher-coma-recovery-treatment-coronavirus-news

Russel, (2020) “Michael Schumacher’s doctor uses F1 legend’s treatment for crucial COVID remedy”, Express, available at:
https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1347767/Michael-schumacher-health-news-schumacher-health-update-coma-recovery-treatment-wife-son

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