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Harnessing stem cells and regenerative medicine to fight COVID-19

Stem Cell Network awards nearly $500,000 for two research projects at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa

April 23, 2020

Stem cell researcherResearchers from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have been awarded $490,000 from the Stem Cell Network for two research projects that could help in the fight against COVID-19. These peer-reviewed grants are part of an overall investment by the Stem Cell Network of $675,000 in COVID-19 research across Canada.  

Using cell therapy to calm the immune system in critically ill patients 

The immune system plays a crucial role in defending the body against COVID-19, but sometimes it can become overactivated, resulting in severe damage to the lungs and death. Previous studies have shown that mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) from donated bone marrow or umbilical cord blood may be able to dampen an overactive immune response and help repair this kind of lung damage. Very early studies from China suggest this approach might work for COVID-19 patients as well. Dr. Duncan Stewart and his colleagues were awarded $300,000 to launch clinical trial of MSCs in people with severe COVID-19. This trial is expected to enroll up to 27 patients in three stages, with the first phase focusing on establishing a safe dose. 

“Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is the major cause of severe illness and death in patients with COVID-19,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, senior scientist and Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “Previous studies have shown that mesenchymal stromal cells can help patients who develop this syndrome due to other infections. Our trial will test whether this approach can help COVID-19 patients as well.” 

Collaborators: Drs. Shane EnglishDean FergussonDavid CourtmanBernard ThébaudManoj Lalu, Saad Khan, Michael Jamieson, and Samantha Hodgins, Meaghan Serjeant, Mohamad Sobh, Joshua Montroy, Irene Watpool, Rebecca Porteous (all of The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa)Core resources: Ottawa Methods CentreBiotherapeutics Manufacturing CentreClinical Research Laboratory 

Identifying and targeting lung and immune mechanisms in COVID-19  

Dr. William Stanford and his colleagues were awarded $195,870 to use human tissue models to investigate how the cells and tissues within the lungs including those that line airways become infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, and how the behaviour of these cells changes once they are infected. The team will grow lung, vascular and kidney cells in three-dimensional tissues, and determine how immune cells respond to these infected tissues, while also performing a repurposing drug screen to identify potential COVID-19 therapeutics. 

“We will use human stem cells to grow the lung cells and tissues that are usually targeted by COVID-19 in the lab. Then we will study how those tissues and the immune system respond once they are infected by the virus. This project will give us a better of idea of what is happening in a patient’s lungs and help us find new drugs,” said Dr. Stanford, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. 

Collaborators:  Dr. Amy Wong (SickKids), Dr. Molly Shoichet (University of Toronto), Dr. Scott Gray-Owen (University of Toronto)Stephen Juvet (Toronto General Hospital Research Institute). Core resources: High Content Imaging CoreHuman Pluripotent Stem Cell Facility 

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are currently exploring more than 50 research projects that could help in the fight against COVID-19These projects will make use of shared research equipment, resources and facilities that have been developed over many years, thanks to generous support from donors through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s top learning and research hospitals, where excellent care is inspired by research and driven by compassion. As the third-largest employer in Ottawa, our support staff, researchers, nurses, physicians, and volunteers never stop seeking solutions to the most complex health-care challenges. Our multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, attracts some of the most influential scientific minds from around the world. Backed by generous support from the community, we are committed to providing the world-class, compassionate care we would want for our loved ones.  

Media Contact 

Amelia Buchanan 
Senior Communication Specialist 
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute 
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73687 
Cell: 613-297-8315 
ambuchanan@ohri.ca