A new phase 1 clinical study has shown that the use of stem cells in patients with COPD can help to reduce the inflammation associated with the disease. Patients were treated with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), a type of stem cell, which helped to regulate key factors that drive inflammation in COPD patients.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide. In 2019, the lung disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, was responsible for 3.23 million deaths.
COPD is a progressive lung disease with persistent respiratory symptoms, including difficulty in breathing, cough and phlegm production. It is most commonly caused by long-term exposure to respiratory irritants with smoking the leading cause of the disease.
There are several treatments that can help to reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease, but there is no cure, as the damage caused to the lungs is irreversible; however, there is hope that stem cells could be used in new treatments that could permanently halt the progression of the disease and even reverse lung damage.
MSCs are multipotent stem cells found in a variety of tissues, including the umbilical cord, fat, and bone marrow. The cells secrete molecules that are beneficial in inflamed tissues and have been shown to relieve chronic inflammation, which is a characteristic of COPD.
Researchers demonstrated in preclinical studies in rodents that MSCs eased inflammation in the lungs and reduced emphysema; however, the promising results have not been reproduced in human studies. The reason why MSCs have not produced the same results in humans is unclear.
In the latest study, MSCs were extracted from the bone marrow of donors and 9 patients with stabilized COPD received MSC infusions. The researchers analyzed gene expression profiles from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in the first week after infusion. The researchers found MSC infusions were well tolerated and did reduce biomarkers associated with chronic inflammation and oxidative stress for a period of time; however, while the treatment did have a positive effect and reduced disease-causing pathways, the benefits were short-lived. 7 days following treatment the benefits started to wear off.
“This is in line with a recent study in patients with septic shock receiving MSC infusions, where inflammatory levels were most prominently reduced around 12 to 24 hours after infusion, then reverted to baseline levels in the subsequent days. These effects are likely a consequence of the rapid breakdown of MSCs following intravenous infusion,” said study lead researcher Yuben P. Moodley, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Cell Biology Unit at the Institute for Respiratory Health, and associate professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Western Australia. “This suggests that frequent, perhaps weekly doses, may be important to achieve clinical benefit in COPD patients,” Dr. Moodley said. “The insights gained from this study warrant further investigation of MSCs and/or their secreted factors as a novel therapeutic intervention in chronic airways diseases.”
Further investigation of MSCs and their secreted factors is now required to determine whether they could serve as a novel therapeutic option for COPD and other chronic airways diseases.
You can read more about the study in the paper Transcriptional profiling of circulating mononuclear cells from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease receiving mesenchymal stromal cell infusions – which was recently published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine. DOI: 10.1002/sctm.21-0024