Stem powder to remedy lung damage from coronavirus?

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A group from the University of Pavia has developed a ‘stem powder’, that is, a mix of proteins and other soluble substances obtained from mesenchymal stem cells. This treatment could help not only the seriously ill but also the cured in the future, but caution is still needed

(photo: Andrew Brookes via Getty Images)

In the search for a treatment against pneumonia due to COVID-19, today another hypothesis is making its way: to use the so-called secretome, a mix of soluble proteins obtained by the manipulation of mesenchymal stem cells – cells which are found in various human tissues. In this field, a research team from the University of Pavia recently developed a technique for obtaining a secretoma in powder, Freeze-dried, and not liquid, like the one studied so far, and in the last few years the Italian team has successfully tested these substances in powder on animals, therefore still in a preclinical phase, with other lung diseases. Today the Pavia researchers have just published an article explaining why this treatment could also be effective in patients with very severe forms of Covid-19, And also for people who have recovered after a severe form but have a damage to tissues lung and may have long-term chronic lung problems. It is obviously a first step but the results could open an interesting study path to identify new tools against coronavirus. The researchers’ reflection is published in the journal cells.

What the secretoma could do

The secretoma is a diverse collection of substances produced by mesenchymal stem cells. There are inside soluble proteins of micro and nanoscopic dimensions, together with extracellular vesicles, which in recent years have often been studied as micro-shuttles carrying other substances, therefore as therapeutic agents. These components, interacting with the virus infected cells, to be affected, could regulate the immune response is inflammatory. “Our group observed that the secretoma in animals with other lung diseases also exhibits antifibrotic effects, therefore reducing lung thickening”he explained to Wired Maria Luisa Torre, creator of the project and head of the Cell Delivery System Lab of the University of Pavia. “For this, it could be useful not only in patients with very severe Covid-19, but also for those recovered with a fibrotic-scar outcome. According to what has just emerged about 30% of people who have had Covid-19 infection and recover may develop chronic lung problems from Covid-19 outcome (the data comes from the digital conference of the Italian Society of Pneumology with StemNet, the Federation of stem cell research associations and the Italian mesenchymal stem group Gism).

The first clues and hypotheses

“Altogether several preclinical studies [su animali ndr]”, The authors write, including Corsico Angel, who coordinated the study, “They provided congruent evidence and convincing of the therapeutic efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells in various lung diseases “. Among the pathologies studied in these trials, there are the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the fibrosis idiopathic pulmonary. “Based on the evidence available”, continue the authors,“We hypothesized that the mesenchymal stem cell secretoma, formulated as a freeze-dried powder and administered with intravenous injections (or through inhalation of the patient), may represent a suitable approach for the treatment of patients with Covid-19 pneumonia, especially those in very serious conditions “.

Why the secretoma could be important

Obviously the results cited by the authors are preliminary and however not on Covid-19 so it is necessary to use the conditional and proceed with caution, not forgetting that the experimentation follows long paths. “However”adds Torre there are already two clinical trials in China, traceable on Clinicaltrials.gov (here and here), in which the use of the inhaled secretoma for the treatment of Covid-19 pneumonia is being studied. These trials are currently evaluating its tolerability in patients (phase 1 of the clinical trial) “. The hope, continues the expert, is that in the case of positive results, research can proceed. “Even because”, Underlines Torre, even once we have the vaccine and that it has been administered on a large scale, so the pandemic can come to an end, comunque damage from Covid-19 will be seen for a long time in some of the healed with chronic lung problems. ”

Better the powder secretome

In addition, the use of the secretome lyophilized it may have advantages over the liquid one already in use. “This is meanwhile because it is more standardized and we can say exactly how many and which substances there are and in what concentration“, Concludes Torre. “This element could also be useful to reduce the costs, especially for developing countries that do not have the opportunity to access other more expensive therapies “.

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