Experimental stem cell therapy a potential weapon against COVID-19

February 1, 2021

Dr. Duncan Stewart and colleagues have launched a clinical trial to test MSCs in people with severe COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, researchers in Canada and around the world moved quickly to pivot their research and help with the development of new treatments and vaccines. 

At The Ottawa Hospital, this resulted in more than 60 different research projects and trials, including an innovative clinical trial of mesenchymal stem / stromal cells (MSCs) for severely ill COVID-19 patients.  

Co-led by Drs. Duncan Stewart, Shane English, Dean Fergusson, the trial is designed to see if MSCs from the umbilical cord may be able to help the body’s immune system fight COVID-19 while reducing damage to vital organs. It builds on a previous clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital in patients in severe septic shock – the first trial of its kind in the world.

“Both septic shock and COVID-19 can cause an overactive immune response in the lungs, which compromises the delivery of oxygen to the rest of the body,” explained Dr. Duncan Stewart, a clinician scientist and Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “MSCs may be able to dampen this damaging inflammation while at the same time, bolstering more beneficial aspects of the immune response to remove pathogens and allow the organs to heal.”

The trial, which launched in June 2020 at The Ottawa Hospital, is initially designed to look at safety and dosing. It will soon be expanding to other sites across Canada, including Lakeridge Health, St. Michael’s Hospital and Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), and will look at efficacy as well. The trial is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund and the Stem Cell Network, as well as by Core Research Resources at The Ottawa Hospital, including the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre and Ottawa Methods Centre.

Dr. Stewart credits the thriving research and development ecosystem at The Ottawa Hospital for enabling the team to launch the trial so quickly.

“We were able to rapidly shift gears and prioritize this study because we could build on previous investments in research infrastructure, cell manufacturing capabilities and designing and managing clinical trials,” he said. “All of the necessary components were already in place so we could move rapidly.”

This story was adapted from a story published by the Ontario Institute for Regenerative MedicineThe Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa. 

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