Scientists from Sweden have discovered lung-specific mesenchymal stem cells that could be used for treatment of treatment of severe respiratory problems associated with COVID-19, such as lung inflammation and fibrosis. 

“This is not a COVID-19 vaccine, but a treatment for those who have already fallen ill. If we get the opportunity to quickly do clinical trials, we can have a treatment ready for patients long before there is a vaccine”, – says Niels-Bjarne Woods.

Woods leads a research team at the Department of Laboratory Medicine and has also been part of and founded the research company Amniotics AB, which has supported the preclinical studies. The results obtained by him are very promising.

“So far, our studies show that the lung-specific stem cells significantly reduce inflammation, and significantly reduced lung tissue damage. It is because of these pre-clinical results that we believe a treatment using these cells has the potential to both save lives and reduce the severity of the lung damage in those patients critically ill with COVID-19″, – says Niels-Bjarne Woods.

This study has not yet been published, but it is based on the results of 2017, which used mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) of amniotic fluid.

“During the late stages of pregnancy, amniotic fluid fills the lungs of the unborn baby, something that has made it possible to develop a lung-specific mesenchymal stem cell that attacks the inflammation caused by COVID-19. The key was to understand the biology of the cells to be able to isolate them from other cells present in amniotic fluid”, – says Niels-Bjarne Woods.

Using a newly developed amniotic collection device, researchers were able to obtain an almost unlimited amount of MSCs for therapeutic use. The stem cells found in the amniotic fluid reproduce much better than those in adult tissue, which means that their quality is also better. This is significant progress for regenerative medicine since more stem cells in general can be used.

“We now hope that we will quickly get approval from the Swedish Medical Products Agency to start a clinical study. If everything goes as planned, the first patients may get the stem cells against COVID-19 in early autumn of this year. We are also in talks with hospitals in other countries about using our lung-specific stem cells”, – Niels-Bjarne Woods concludes.