Characterized by chronic inflammation that obstructs normal airflow from the lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects an estimated 65 million people and remains the third leading cause of death worldwide. Caused by prolonged exposure to gasses or other harmful particulates, and especially cigarette smoke, COPD is typically characterized by breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production, and wheezing[1]

While there are many different forms of COPD, the two most common are emphysema and chronic bronchitis; unfortunately, these two often occur simultaneously and significantly exacerbate the effects of COPD. With the number of people living with COPD expected to increase by 30% over the next decade, the disease is projected to remain among the leading causes of preventable illnesses and deaths for the foreseeable future.

There isn’t a known treatment or cure for COPD, rather a series of physical and chemical treatments designed to ease symptoms and slow progression of the disease; some current treatment includes bronchodilators, oral and inhaled steroids, antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and surgeries including lung transplantation and bullectomy. To date, these treatments have demonstrated limited success and are often associated with several severe adverse effects.

Recent research has shown mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to be an effective therapeutic option for treating inflammation and autoimmune diseases, making them a promising therapeutic treatment option for COPD.  

In this pilot clinical study, Le Thi Bich et al. evaluated the safety and efficacy of umbilical cord-derived (UC) MSCs for treating COPD. This pilot clinical study included participants who were 40-80 years old and diagnosed with moderate to severe COPD (stage C or D per the Global Initiative for Chronic Lung Disease). Using UC-MSCs cultured and expanded using the UC-SCI technology, Le Thi Bich et al. administered MSCs intravenously to participants as an intervention for assessment of therapeutic treatment for COPD.

After administering UC-MSCs on day 0, participants were evaluated for safety and efficacy at months 1, 3, and 6. At the end of month 6, researchers concluded that UC-MSC transplantation significantly improved some important outcomes of COPD, including mMCR, CAT, and number of exacerbations. While not statistically significant, the authors credit these improvements to an observed downregulation in inflammation.

While there have been several studies evaluating the potential of MSCs as therapies for several diseases, Le Thi Bich et al. ‘s study is the first clinical trial to use US-MSCs as a treatment for COPD

The authors conclude that the UC-MSC transplantation occurring in this pilot study significantly improved the quality of life and clinical conditions of COPD patients, most likely a result of the strong immunomodulation capacity of the UC-MSCs – especially when compared to findings of other studies using bone-marrow MSCs.

The authors also conclude that the systemic administration of UC-SC appears safe and, although treatment efficacy was not significantly different between those with different stages of COPD, those with stage D COPD did exhibit stronger medical response after UC-MSC transplantation than the medical response observed in patients with stage C COPD. 


The observed results of Le Thi Bich’s pilot study provide an important and significant basis for further clinical study of the potential of MSCs in patients with COPD.

Source: “Allogeneic umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell … – NCBI.” 13 Feb. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7020576/.


[1] “COPD – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic.” 15 Apr. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

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