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A study is using umbilical cord stem cells to try to treat severe COVID-19 patients

A doctor says they are turning the umbilical cord stem cells into a promising potential coronavirus therapy.

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Doctors at the Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital are part of a study using umbilical cord stem cells to treat COVID-19 patients who have developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, known as ARDS.

"In other words, a lot of inflammation that happens in the lungs — it's not really the virus itself that kills the patient, it is really the their response to the virus that is causing the detriment, so if you can modulate that response then you can convert the severe cases of COVID into a more flu-like syndrome," says Dr. Frank Vrionis, neurosurgeon, director of the Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

Vrionis and his team say these stem cells are known for their ability to reduce inflammation and regenerate damaged lung tissue.

He says they are essentially turning something that would end up as medical waste into a promising potential coronavirus therapy.

"These are umbilical cord cells, so this is tissue that is coming from healthy babies after delivery, so it's post-natal. Part of the tissue that has been given — it is not done during pregnancy; it is after delivery; that's tissue that goes into a waste can and instead is used because it has a lot of stem cells with multi potential," says Vrionis.

But this type of therapy is not for every COVID-19 patient.

"This is only for the very severe forms of the disease where patients need to be mechanically ventilated and they are facing a life and death issue. That happens only in 3% to 5% of patients with COVID," says Vrionis.

The multi-institutional randomized study will enroll 30 patients with COVID-19 and ARDS who meet specific criteria. Patients will receive the cells through an IV once a day for three consecutive days.

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These umbilical cord stem cells have already been used with success to treat other pulmonary conditions and illnesses. And doctors around the country have safely used them on a small number of COVID-19 patients through the FDA's compassionate use authorization.