What is the most trending mortality virus? The unanimous answer to the question is the novel coronavirus [Covid-19]. With global deaths mounting alarmingly, it’s high time the ‘micro-monster’ is contained; better still, eradicated.
First things, first. Covid-19 spreads by fluid droplets that are expelled from the affected individual’s mouth and nose. They get ‘picked up’ when one comes in contact with them. This can occur through close contact, touching the face, or any surface etc., where the liquid droplets may be present — as a result of sneezing, or coughing.
Reports from Kunming, China, have underlined successful outcomes of stem cell treatment in the recovery of coronavirus infected patients. It is, therefore, important in the present dispensation to learn and understand how stem cells could be our much-needed therapeutic ‘ammo’ against coronavirus.
The big question, however, in sceptics’ mind is — is stem cell a medical miracle, or much-hyped blunderbuss for Covid-19?
When coronavirus enters the body, it targets the lungs and respiratory cells, following which it damages the latter, which make up that pivotal line of immune defence for our body. As a result, the ‘filter system’ within switches off and the resultant, dangerous debris starts filling up in the lungs, leading to incessant cough and difficulty in breathing.
It may be mentioned that when only mild symptoms ‘kick in,’ the body gears up to protect itself by activating the immune system. This is evidenced by fever, cough, and a runny nose. And, when the coronavirus infection affects the immune system, it may harm our body cells, especially when the ‘safety mechanism’ is tampered with. With the immune system now being peremptorily affected, certain infections and other diseases may ensue — this may lead to a marked deterioration in one’s health status.
SIMILAR TO FLU?
Coronavirus is not structurally similar to the flu virus. In fact, coronavirus is different from other coronavirus strains, viz., SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. But, if one has to look at the similarities, one needs to look at the symptom complex. Symptoms, such as cough, fever, ‘troubled’ breathing, inflammation of the lung, etc., are as common in flu as coronavirus illness — the difference being of degree. This may also explain why the ‘designing’ of Covid-19 targeted drugs may encompass different biomolecules with the mechanism and effects of healing being similar — i.e., reversing one’s immune-compromised health status.
STEM CELLS & COVID-19
Clinical trials have emerged on the potential use of stem cells in the treatment of Covid-19 infected patients. Some successful cases have also been reported from China with regard to the recovery of such patients upon administration of stem cells. The scientific community is, therefore, looking at stem cells as a hopeful line treatment of Covid-19, more so as a smart option. The big question is: “How can stem cells help?”
Stem cells have the ability to differentiate a variety of cell lineages. They are regarded as fundamental alternatives to conventional treatment, especially in regenerative therapies. They also help to —
- Reduce inflammatory effects
- Enhance immune regulatory functions
- Regenerate and heal damaged tissues
- Differentiate into different cell-types.
Certain previous research studies have showcased the anti-inflammatory effects of stem cells and their ability to reduce virus-induced lung damage. The effects may be hypothesised in Covid-19 cases. Besides, stem cells can reduce respiratory tract damage, caused by Covid-19 infections, through their rejuvenation and tissue repair effects, aside from strengthening the immune system — as a protective shield — against any possible secondary infection.
It is a scientific possibility, also eventuality, that stem cells could be the next therapeutic Holy Grail, along with fast-track vaccine development research, against Covid-19. It is imperative too, that, given the immune-regulatory and immune-modulatory role of stem cells, one may administer stem cells before individuals, or patients, are given the Covid-19 vaccine, so that the body could fight supplementary infections, or be less susceptible their deleterious onslaught. This strategy may, in turn, help the body cope with better effect and also ward off any likely recurrence of Covid-19.
HOW STEM CELLS WORK AGAINST CORONAVIRUS
A case in point: an elderly Chinese woman in Kunming, China, suffering from coronavirus illness, rallied into recovery mode through the application of stem cells. After two stem cell treatments, the lady showed impressive progress, leading to a Covid-19 negative test report. A similar study was undertaken in Hunan and a reassuring outcome was observed.
It is a given that lung and respiratory tract inflammation, during flu, can be repaired by the immuno-modulatory effects of stem cells. Stem cells have, likewise, been shown to mediate antiviral and antibacterial effects, owing to the activation of the body’s immune system. However, a serious concern may, perforce, exist — the possibility of recurrence of coronavirus illness in stem cell-treated patients, especially in the event the virus is quiescent.
Patients with chronic disease, especially when there are limited, or no, treatment options are gradually turning to stem cells with the hope of cure. Coronavirus is no exception. The possibility not only provides stem cell therapy a short in the arm, but also tangible, therapeutic optimism.