MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Doctors in South Florida say an experimental treatment involving stem cells has been incredibly successful in treating severe cases of COVID.

The study involved patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital and at the University Miami Tower. Many of them had acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

“I think this could be a turning point,” said   Dr. Camillo Ricordi, director of the Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

According to Ricordi, the groundbreaking treatment uses stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord.

The treatment has shown to safely reduce the risk of death and has made recovery time faster for some of the most ill patients.

“We just published the study that using stem cells derived from the umbilical cord of a healthy newborn baby. We generally throw away the placenta that is discarded after birth. But we are using cells that are extracted and expand from that umbilical cord. That can generate and provide therapeutic doses for over 10,000 patients from a single umbilical cord. It is an amazing result,” he said.

Ricordi, one of the lead researchers of the study, said treating coronavirus patients with these mesenchymal stem cells just made sense.

“When the COVID pandemic exploded, I called our collaborators in China, saying, ‘Why don’t we try to use these cells in COVID?’ Because they have the same properties that help us fight autoimmune conditions,” he explained.

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The FDA approved to go forward with the trial.

In a double blind study, involving 24 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, each received two infusions given days apart of either the stem cells or placebo.

“The physician nor the patient knew if someone received a cell or just an infusion of the solution of the cells,” Ricordi said.

Researchers found the patient survival rate treated with the stem cells was 91%.

Ricordi said these stem cells have potential to restore normal immune response and also promote tissue regeneration.

When a person develops ARDS, their lungs develop severe inflammation and buildup fluid in their lungs.

Ricordi said ARDS patients usually undergo invasive procedures, but that’s not the case with these stem cells.

“These cells injected in the IV naturally go with a very simple procedure that does not require any invasive procedure. You can just direct the transfusion to the lung,” he explained. “The cells go to the lungs and it has just been an amazing kind of result and we are very excited to move to the next step.”

Jessica Vallejo