SAN FRANCISCO – While more than 200 coronavirus treatments are being tested around the world, one UCSF doctor is running a trial to see if stem cells can help repair the lungs of those who have been severely impacted by COVID-19.

Doctor Michael Matthay, a professor of medicine at UCSF, has been working for days on end to lead a clinical trial that aims to help critically ill patients recover from COVID-19. 


What You Need To Know

  • UCSF doctor running trial to see if stem cells can repair lungs impacted by COVID-19

  • Therapy involves using stem cells derived from bone marrows of healthy donors

  • Coronavirus has been shown to cause significant damage to lungs, even in patients who recover

  • Treatment being developed aims to minimize the damage to patients' lungs


“We need additional treatment to further decrease the lung injury and increase the repair, and so this cell-based therapy has that potential,” Dr. Matthay said.

By using the stem cells derived from the bone marrows of healthy donors, Dr. Matthay explains how patients will be able to get off ventilators sooner and have a better chance of surviving.

“The problem that many patients encounter or face when they develop this COVID-19 virus is that the virus can go into the lungs and cause injury to the lungs – making it difficult for the patient to breathe normally,” Dr. Matthay said. 

He says the coronavirus also causes inflammation and respiratory failure, but if the treatment is effective, the damage to the lungs will be reduced.

Dr. Matthay says the goal is to enroll 120 patients in the one-year trial. Out of those people, half will receive stem cells and the other half will be given a placebo. 

The professor of medicine has been leading trials for more than 30 years, but he says that this is the first time he’s using stem cell-based therapy. In the trials, he’s making a point to include those who are uninsured as well as people living in low-income communities, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.



“It’s been our commitment to treat all patients, because if you just treat one segment of the population, then you don’t know if the treatment will be effective for everyone,” Dr. Matthay said.

The trial is being funded by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Matthay adds that he’s enrolled patients across the country, including in California, Tennessee, Oregon, Texas and Washington. 

While Dr. Matthay says a vaccine will be critical to prevent COVID-19, he notes that treatments like stem cell therapy and others currently in clinical trials are crucial to help save more lives.