Pneumonia is a common disease that affects three million people per year in the United States alone. However, those numbers are rising rapidly due to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 (the disease the virus creates). Pneumonia is one of the most common outcomes of exposure to the virus.
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a familiar condition for many people in the US, but it is often poorly understood. The assumption many make is that it is primarily a disease of concern only for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, but it can be deadly for anyone. According to the CDC,
“Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages.”
Healthline expands on this definition by explaining,
“Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi cause it. The infection causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill with pus or fluid, making it difficult to breathe.”
The Mayo Clinic adds that
“Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems”.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
The symptoms of pneumonia can be similar to those of numerous other health conditions, including the flu. The most common symptoms experienced by patients include the following:
- High fever
- Chest pain when breathing
- Chest pain when coughing
- Phlegmy cough
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- Sweating and chills
- Reduced body temperature (particularly in older adults and/or those with compromised immune systems)
- Cognitive problems (confusion and changes in awareness)
Who Is Most at Risk?
Those most at risk for developing pneumonia include seniors, infants, and young children, and patients with compromised immune systems. However, it can develop in anyone of any age depending on exposure to specific viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is usually caused by exposure to specific bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Aspiration pneumonia may develop if a person inhales foodsfuff because of swallowing problems, vomiting or cough.The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, can lead to pneumonia too. It can also be caused by flu viruses, cold viruses, the RSV virus, and more. Some people who have been hospitalized for other illnesses, injuries, or conditions, can also develop “ventilator-associated” pneumonia due to an infection stemming from the use of a ventilator tube. Hospital-acquired pneumonia is another possibility for those exposed to viruses or bacteria while in the hospital.
What Are the Conventional Treatment Options for Pneumonia?
Treatment for pneumonia will depend on several different factors. One of those is the type of pneumonia in question and the underlying cause. For instance, bacterial pneumonia requires antibiotics. With viral pneumonia, the most common course of treatment is rest and medication to control the fever, although some patients at higher risk may need to be admitted to the hospital so that oxygen therapy can be provided. In addition to other measures, patients may need to take fever reducers/pain relievers and cough medicine. Viruses may weaken the lungs and lead to bacterial pneumonia.Our own immune system may be a problem too as it may mistakenly attack the lungs, damaging them. This scenario is, unfortunately, common in COVID-19 infection. In this case immune suppressants are used as part of the treatment.
How May Stem Cell Therapy Help Pneumonia Patients?
Research is ongoing into the use of stem cells to treat a very broad range of illnesses, diseases, and injuries. Stem cells are the building blocks of the entire body and can transform into virtually any type of cell necessary. They are also the foundation of the body’s healing system. Numerous studies have been conducted with stem cells to treat pneumonia over the years with positive results.
In a study published in the journal Bioscience Reports in 2019, the authors found that mesenchymal stem cells significantly improved treatment effects (non-human trial). The authors noted,
“The changes we observed from chest imaging, bronchoscopic manifestations and pathology revealed that co-administration of hUMSCs and LZD reduced lung inflammation more significantly than that of LZD group. The plasma levels of IL-8, IL-6, CRP, and TNF-α in combined group decreased dramatically compared with the LZD group (P<0.05). In conclusion, hUMSCs administration significantly improved therapeutic effects of LZD on pneumonia resulted from MRSA infection in a rabbit model.”
Another study, this one published in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy in 2020, was conducted in the impact of umbilical cord-derived CD362+ mesenchymal stromal cells on patients with bacterial pneumonia. The authors found,
“CD362+ UC-hMSCs were as effective as heterogonous MSCs in reducing E. coli-induced acute lung injury, improving oxygenation, decreasing bacterial load, reducing histologic injury, and ameliorating inflammatory marker levels. Cryopreserved CD362+ UC-hMSCs recapitulated this efficacy, attenuating E. coli-induced injury, but therapeutic relevance did not extend beyond passage 3 for all indices. CD362+ UC-hMSCs maintained efficacy in the presence of antibiotic therapy and rescued the animal from E. coli injury when delivered at 6 h + 12 h, following E. coli instillation.”
Allogeneic and Autologous Stem Cells
It should be noted that both autologous and allogeneic stem cells can be used for therapeutic purposes. However, they do not perform at the same level. Autologous stem cells are the same age as the patient’s body and have significant accumulated damage that prevents them from being as effective as possible. Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are derived from umbilical cord blood and tissue and are not only youthful and energetic, but much more effective than stem cells sourced from the patient’s own body.
Ultimately, stem cell therapy may provide hope and healing for patient struggling with pneumonia, including COVID-19 related pneumonia. On introduction to the body, stem cells migrate directly to the lungs. This provides them with time to diversify, replace damaged tissue, and combat infection within the lungs. Balancing the immune system is another mechanism by which stem cells can help in this condition.
However, it is important to remember that all stem cell treatments are considered experimental, as the FDA has not approved any such therapy. Stem cells should not replace established medical treatment. It is also important that patients work with a physician experienced not only in providing stem cell therapy, but who understands the importance of using allogeneic stem cells, rather than autologous stem cells.