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Video Interview


Life Sciences, Medicine, COVID-19

Camillo Ricordi

Professor and ISSNAF Founder

Professor and ISSNAF Founder


Camillo Ricordi currently serves as Director of the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami FL. He is the Chief Academic Officer of the Diabetes Research Institute of the University of Miami and is director of the DRI's Cell Transplant Center. He has been active in stem cell research and its applications to treating diabetes.

Ricordi held the role of Head of the Advanced CGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices) Advanced Cell and Biologic Product Manufacturing Facility (from 1993 to today), funded by the NIH (National Institute of Health), for research and clinical applications at the University of Miami in the United States and around the world. Ricordi has received numerous awards and prizes including the World Prize in Surgery (University of Geneva) for the development of a technology that has significantly contributed to the progress of surgery and the American Diabetes Association's outstanding Scientific Achievement Award. Ricordi is Official Knight of the Italian Republic (Order of Merit). He is also a member of the National Academy of Inventors, USA, and of the Superior Health Council (organ of the Italian Ministry of Health). He is recognized as a world leader in cell transplants and has conducted numerous clinical studies using UC-MSC in patients with type 1 diabetes, organ transplants and Alzheimer's, conducted over the past 20 years. He has been awarded 27 patents for inventions in the medical field. Ricordi has the supervision, guidance and general direction of this study on COVID-19. He will lead a team of investigators from the University of Miami - Miller School of Medicine.

Interview with:

The research conducted by Prof. Camillo Ricordi at the University of Miami is based on the use of mesenchymal stem cells of the umbilical cord for the treatment of serious cases of COVID-19.

Host: “Prof. Ricordi, what does this type of intervention consist in to combat COVID-19?”

Guest: “We are experimenting at the University of Miami with an intervention authorized by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA. It is a randomized clinical trial that aims to verify the safety and efficacy of treatments that use stem cells from the newborn's umbilical cord.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can cause severe lung inflammation, making breathing difficult and insufficient. When oxygen levels in the bloodstream drop dangerously, vital organs stop functioning. In severe cases, the average time between the first symptom and the death of COVID-19 is only 8 days. The excess inflammation that occurs can take the form of an autoimmune disease or a reaction against the tissues of the body itself, with consequent damage to the pulmonary endothelium of the vessels and micro vessels that causes micro embolisms.

The human body reacts to these micro thromboses by activating plasmin, an enzyme predisposed to dissolve clots. But this enzyme ends up potentiating the virus even more, making it more infectious and virulent, in a chain reaction. Hence it is important to provide combination therapies that include anticoagulants and anti-inflammatories.

Stem cells can be compared to a technology that makes use of smart bombs: they have an anti-inflammatory action that at the same time moderates the immune system's responses (in fact they are used for autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, lupus etc.). They also have an antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral action, as well as promoting the repair and regeneration of damaged tissues.”

Host: “Why is your diabetic center at the forefront of the use of mesenchymal stem cells in COVID-19?”

Guest: “There are more than 9,000 international clinical trials in progress involving stem cells, while there are only 71 on COVID-19. Ours is the only pilot study conducted in Florida. In the cord there are mesenchymal stem cells that have already been approved for experimentation in Alzheimer's disease and type one diabetes. My team has been using it for 15 years for our clinical trials for type one diabetes, kidney transplants and Alzheimer's in collaboration with the neurology department of the University of Miami.

In the case of diabetes or kidney diseases, however, the use of mesenchymal stem cells presents an obstacle: if injected intravenously, the first filter is the pulmonary one. So far, therefore, 95% of the cells injected into patients have ended up in the lungs, forcing us to divert these cells to the target organ. But in our case the target organ is the lung and therefore the trial does not require subsequent surgical interventions to direct these cells elsewhere.”

Host: “Your team is carrying out this trial with various groups in the rest of the world including Italy. Can you tell us about the collaboration with your home Country? How was it born and how is it developing? Are there any more common projects in sight?”

Guest: “In Italy we are in contact with Prof. Massimo Dominici at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, who is coordinating a group of 5 centers, in which they will conduct research to compare the effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cells of different origins (from tissue adipose, placenta or bone marrow).

Furthermore, I am in contact with teams in China and Israel while in the USA I interact with Stanford and Harvard Universities. We have also started correspondence with other study centers in South America and Europe.”

Host: “It is obvious that at this moment the time value is very important. How long will it take to be sure of the good results of this trial?”

Guest: “In line with our spirit of collaboration without frontiers, our protocol is already available online on the website, the official journal of the Cure Alliance foundation that supports our trial. It is a highly collaborative academic, non-profit initiative that aims to create a sort of bank of these cells, free of charge in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

Our trial is limited to 24 patients but we are planning to grow cells in sufficient numbers to distribute doses to a large number of hospitals in America.

In three months we will find out the outcome of our trial. We are optimistic and believe that we are on the right track.”

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