Yes, you read that title right. Stem cell therapy for COVID-19 is helping elephants! As you may know, Personalized Stem Cells developed and received FDA approval for a COVID-19 stem cell clinical trial in 2020. We later went on to license that trial to an outside company. You can read more about it in our recent blog.

The initial COVID-19 clinical trial produced really promising results, which got PSC leadership thinking about how stem cell therapy could be applied to other viral infections. Though we provide stem cell therapy for people, our parent company, VetStem, Inc., has been providing stem cell therapy for veterinary patients for nearly 20 years. And like people, animals are also affected by potentially deadly viruses, some of which have limited treatment options.

One such virus that specifically affects elephants is known as Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus or EEHV. EEHV is a lethal viral infection that affects Asian elephants and now, increasingly, African elephants and can cause a highly fatal hemorrhagic disease. Unfortunately, there are limited treatment options for this virus and infected elephants often die.

The North American EEHV Advisory Group was developed with a goal to decrease elephant sickness and death due to EEHV and to provide “peer-reviewed, accurate information that reflects current thinking on the research and management of EEHV in both wild and captive elephants globally.” The group recently put on the Global EEHV Symposium, a meeting where top researchers, veterinarians, and elephant husbandry colleagues from across the globe get together to present case reports, research findings, vaccine research, and treatment options.

PSC and VetStem founder and CEO, Dr. Bob Harman, was invited to present stem cell data for the treatment of EEHV at the symposium. VetStem has provided stem cell doses to several zoos in the United States who had elephants with EEHV. According to Dr. Harman, the preliminary data is promising. He stated, “While it is still very early, we are optimistic that stem cell therapy may be a viable treatment option for elephants with EEHV. Stem cells have numerous mechanisms of action, including the secretion of molecules that are anti-viral. In this limited set of elephants with severe EEHV, the stem cells seemed to be very effective. Much research is still needed to verify the proper dose and timing of this novel therapy.”

According to Dr. Harman, the idea to treat EEHV with stem cells came from the COVID-19 clinical trial. We’ve talked about this human-veterinary crossover before, a notion we call One Medicine. Typically, a new medical technology or drug emerges in the veterinary field and after research and outcome data are compiled, scientists and doctors begin to wonder how humans may benefit from the same technology. This time, the process was reversed, and human medical developments benefitted animal patients. We love to see translational medicine at work!