Pneumonia is nothing new. It has been with us probably as long as humanity has existed. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever before are being diagnosed and treated for it. What’s more, some patients do not respond well to conventional pneumonia treatments. For these patients, and even for those who may respond well to conventional treatments, stem cell therapy might offer additional hope and healing.
What Is COVID-19-Related Pneumonia?
First, let’s take a closer look at what pneumonia means in relation to COVID-19. One of the first things to understand is that this is viral pneumonia, rather than bacterial pneumonia. According to Healthline,
"Viral pneumonia is a complication of the viruses that cause colds and the flu. It accounts for about one-third of pneumonia cases. The virus invades your lungs and causes them to swell, blocking your flow of oxygen."
Now, those numbers are obviously from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, viral pneumonia accounts for the majority of cases. However, it also differs from non-COVID pneumonia.
How Does COVID-19 Pneumonia Differ from Regular Pneumonia?
COVID-19 pneumonia is pretty similar to regular pneumonia, but there are some key differences. One of those is that people with regular pneumonia are likely to have it in just one lung. COVID patients often present with infections in both lungs. Lungs of COVID-19 patients also differ in appearance – they have a 'ground-glass' appearance when seen in a CT scan. Finally, patients with COVID-19 pneumonia have abnormalities in laboratory tests, including liver function tests, and more.
What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19 Pneumonia?
The symptoms COVID-19 pneumonia sufferers experience are similar to those experienced by patients with regular pneumonia. Symptoms include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Cough (productive or unproductive)
- Chest pain
- Blue coloring of the face, lips, or fingernails
- Difficulty staying awake
- Pressure in the chest
- Rapid heartbeat
Who Is at Risk of COVID-19 Pneumonia?
Anyone who contracts COVID-19 has a chance to develop pneumonia. However, specific individuals do have a much higher chance of contracting the disease. These include the following:
- People 65 or older
- Anyone living in an assisted living facility or care home
- Those with asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, kidney disease, liver disease, or who are obese
- Those with a weak or compromised immune system
Lasting Effects of COVID-19 Pneumonia
While regular pneumonia may clear up with few or no lingering effects, more and more COVID sufferers are being diagnosed with long-term, potentially permanent, effects from the disease. Some of these include lung lesions, ongoing breathing difficulties, lung damage, and scarring.
What Are the Treatment Options for COVID-19 Pneumonia?
Treating COVID-19 pneumonia has proven difficult and challenging. Currently, there are no specific treatments that have been approved for the disease, although numerous therapies are being used and more that are being explored. Supportive care, such as oxygen therapy, is the most common and least invasive. However, severe cases may require intubation with a ventilator.
What Role Might Stem Cell Therapy Play for COVID-19 Pneumonia Patients?
While there are currently no specifically approved treatments for COVID-19 pneumonia, many are being investigated. Stem cell therapy is one of the most promising of these. What might stem cells have to offer? They deliver critical capabilities, speed healing, reduce scarring, and more.
In a study titled Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for COVID-19: Present or Future, the authors point out that,
"Probably, preventing the severe acute respiratory infection form of COVID-19 as the most dangerous phase of this disease can be helpful for the treatment and reduction of the death rate. In this regard, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)-based immunomodulation treatment has been proposed as a suitable therapeutic approach and several clinical trials have begun. Recently, MSCs according to their immunomodulatory and regenerative properties attract attention in clinical trials. After the intravenous transplantation of MSCs, a significant population of cells accumulates in the lung, which, alongside immunomodulatory effects, could protect alveolar epithelial cells, reclaim the pulmonary microenvironment, prevent pulmonary fibrosis, and cure lung dysfunction."
Another study, this one published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, noted that while many potential treatments are being researched, none of them offer regenerative capabilities. In contrast, stem cells can help heal and repair lung damage. The authors note that
"Stem cell therapies and, more recently, their secreted extracellular vesicles (EVs), are emerging as new promising treatments, which could attenuate inflammation but also regenerate the lung damage caused by COVID-19. Stem cells exert their immunomodulatory, anti-oxidant, and reparative therapeutic effects likely through their EVs, and therefore, could be beneficial, alone or in combination with other therapeutic agents, in people with COVID-19.
In this review article, we outline the mechanisms of cytokine storm and lung damage caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus leading to COVID-19 disease and how mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and their secreted EVs can be utilized to tackle this damage by harnessing their regenerative properties, which gives them potential enhanced clinical utility compared to other investigated pharmacological treatments. There are currently 17 clinical trials evaluating the therapeutic potential of MSCs for the treatment of COVID-19, the majority of which are administered intravenously with only one clinical trial testing MSC-derived exosomes via inhalation route."
Allogeneic vs. Autologous Stem Cells
While both allogeneic and autologous stem cells are being researched, it should be noted that only allogeneic stem cells sourced from umbilical cord blood offer the youthfulness, high energy, and long lifespan necessary for rejuvenation and healing. They are also invisible to the immune system, which reduces the chance of a negative immune system response.
A Final Note to Consider
While stem cell therapy may provide healing and hope for COVID-19 patients struggling with pneumonia, it’s important to remember that no stem cell therapy has been approved by the FDA. This means that any treatments offered are experimental in nature. It is also important to work with a physician who is experienced with allogeneic stem cells and their use in healing the body.