By Rebecca Black, PA
Belfast researchers are leading a UK-wide clinical trial offering cell therapy treatment for coronavirus patients with acute respiratory failure.
The team at the Queen's University Belfast is investigating the use of allogenic Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in patients with a complication known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) caused by Covid-19.
The trial involves the use of MSCs, a type of cell derived from human tissue such as bone marrow or umbilical cord to treat the injury to the lung caused by Covid-19.
MSCs are a novel treatment that have been shown in experimental models to reduce inflammation, fight infection and improve the repair of injured tissue.
The first patient has now been recruited, with plans to take on at least 60 more at multiple sites across the UK including Belfast, Birmingham and London.
Professor Ian Young, clinical professor at the Centre for Public Health, Queen's University Belfast and chief scientific adviser at the Department of Health, emphasised the importance of clinical trials to ensure patients can get the best treatment.
"The Health and Social Care Research & Development Division has been working with researchers across HSC to address the global problem of coronavirus," he said.
"We have contributed £230,000 for this vital research which will provide important evidence regarding a potential new treatment for respiratory failure, a leading cause of mortality in Covid-19.
"We will continue to support health research and encourage people to participate in research trials and other studies so patients can get the best possible treatment to help tackle the spread of Covid-19."
The trial has been identified by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as a national urgent public health study.
It is one of a number of Covid-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the chief medical officer for England.
Earlier, Northern Ireland's health minister urged patients to volunteer for clinical trials.
Robin Swann said: "These trials will benefit individual patients and also contribute significantly to our learning about the virus and how to treat it. The most promising potential treatments have been identified - using international evidence and NHS expertise.
"The trials are another key part of the fightback against Covid-19. Our involvement once again underlines the benefits of being part of the wider NHS family."
Northern Ireland's chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride added: "The faster people are recruited to clinical trials and other studies, the sooner we will get the evidence so patients can get the best possible treatment. Those who volunteer for studies will help others in the future."