Amniotic fluid, the clear liquid that helps nourish and protect fetuses before birth, isn’t just for babies. In fact, for nearly 100 years, doctors have used the mixture to help heal skin wounds, burns, and leg ulcers as well as provide protection for surgical adhesions.
Now, in a first-of-its-kind effort, University of Utah Health researchers are investigating whether human amniotic fluid (HAF) can reduce lung inflammation caused by COVID-19 and promote the recovery of patients who have contracted the disease.
“If successful, our research could shorten or mitigate the intensity of COVID-19 and have a lot of downstream effects including reducing the need for critical care, improving patient outcomes, and getting them home faster,” says Craig Selzman, MD, the study’s senior investigator and chief of U of U Health’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
Selzman and his colleagues first became interested in amniotic fluid as a possible treatment for COVID-19 after reading about a small study conducted in China. The study found that four pregnant women who were ill with the virus gave birth to healthy babies who didn’t have any covid-19 symptoms.
Intrigued, Selzman’s team, working in conjunction with the School of Medicine’s Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine program, treated 10 COVID-19 patients with HAF. Preliminary results in this small group suggest there was a 40% reduction of inflammation in some patients’ lungs. This reduction was measured by changes in C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance produced in the liver that is considered a biomarker of body’s inflammatory response.
“Theoretically, amniotic fluid is probably halting the progression of the disease by impeding its ability to cause inflammatory responses in the heart, lungs and other organs,” Selzman says.
But why HAF, which is composed of a mixture of electrolytes (salts), proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and urea, triggered this effect still isn’t clear and will required additional study.
In the meantime, Selzman and his colleagues are getting ready to conduct a phase 2 clinical trial involving 60 COVID-19 patients with varying severity of the illness. Half will receive HAF treatment; the other 30 will get standard care.
In addition to monitoring the patients for acute symptoms, the researchers hope HAF treatment will diminish the risk that these patients will develop pulmonary fibrosis (scarring and stiffening of the lungs) and other chronic respiratory conditions.
“If we can halt this inflammatory process early on, we could actually prevent the onset of advance lung disease in the months and years ahead,” Selzman says. “So, it’s not just trying to get people better right now. It’s also trying to stave off what could be long-term consequences of this viral infection.”
This research is supported, in part, by the University of Utah’s Immunology, Inflammation & Infectious Disease Initiative (3i)