IMPACT scientists detect therapeutic effect in cryopreserved stem cells for Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

A study led by the IMPACT Center of Excellence and the Center for Biomedical Research and Innovation (CiiB) of the Universidad de los Andes, determined that stem cells present in menstrual fluid have therapeutic potential for Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a severe respiratory complication that associated with Covid-19 presents worse outcomes, such as a higher risk of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) and patient mortality.

The principal investigator, Jimena Cuenca, explains that: “This syndrome is a respiratory failure that causes fluid accumulation in the air spaces of the lungs (pulmonary edema), low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia) and inflammation. It is a condition that was greatly increased by Covid-19, has a high mortality rate and only palliative treatments are available. What we observed in the laboratory is that therapy with cryopreserved menstrual stem cells was safe and effective, favoring an improvement in lung function and survival, decreasing inflammation and lung damage. In the model of the disease in mice, it is possible to see an improvement from the second day after injecting the cells”, she states.

For the scientist, the use of cryopreserved stem cells in this research opens the door to therapies that are more easily accessible and immediately available. “Therapies based on cryopreserved or frozen cells that are not from the same patient can be available to those who need treatment quickly, since the cells can be thawed and injected immediately. On the other hand, when the cells are from the same patient and fresh, to call them that, it means that the therapy has to be produced from cells from the patient who is already ill, and these therapies are not done overnight, they take two or three weeks, and in this disease the sooner the treatment is applied the better,” he assures.

The work, carried out in collaboration with the Pulmonary Research Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and the Department of Internal Medicine of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, is an advance in the search for a safe and effective treatment against a syndrome of high economic cost for the health system and the families, as it requires long hospitalizations in intensive care units and the support of complex equipment such as mechanical ventilators.

Francisca Alcayaga, principal investigator of IMPACT and part of the study, points out that while there is scientific precedent indicating the potential of stem cells from different origins in lung regeneration, cells obtained from menstrual fluid have great potential compared to other sources. “Stem cells are in different tissues in your body and have been shown to be present in different body fluids such as urine, milk, and obviously menstrual fluid. We have been studying them for more than 10 years, we are one of the references worldwide, and we can say that menstrual fluid stem cells are different, they are unique with respect to other sources. We have realized that menstruation, which is socially seen as something vulgar, undesirable, something that nobody talks about and that generates a lot of shame, is pure life. It is a living material, full of stem cells that serve as therapy for different diseases and full of information regarding women’s reproductive health,” she concludes.

The IMPACT Center of Excellence is led by the Universidad de los Andes and is financed by the National Agency for Innovation and Development, ANID; the participation of the Pontificia Universidad Católica, Universidad de Chile, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, and Universidad de La Frontera, as well as the collaboration of the Clínica Universidad de los Andes.

Researchers Jimena Cuenca, and Francisca Alcayaga

Researchers Jimena Cuenca, and Francisca Alcayaga

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