A 73-year-old man from Hawkesbury, Ontario, survived a deadly infection after receiving millions of mesenchymal stem cells in a world-first trial at The Ottawa Hospital.
Charles Berniqué developed severe septic shock in June of last year after his esophagus burst, likely from food poisoning. Septic shock is a deadly condition in which rampant infection triggers hyper-activation of the immune system, causing the cardiovascular system and organs to fail.
Mr. Berniqué was first treated by thoracic surgeons, who restored his fluids, repaired his esophagus and started antibiotic therapy. He was placed into a coma in the intensive care unit where mechanical ventilation and dialysis supported his heart, lungs and kidneys.
During this time, his wife Maureen consented to his participation in the clinical trial led by Drs. Duncan Stewart and Lauralyn McIntyre.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Berniqué received an intravenous infusion of 30 million mesenchymal stem cells originally extracted from the bone marrow of a healthy Ottawa volunteer.
“Our laboratory studies that showed that mesenchymal stem cell therapy tripled survival in a mouse model of septic shock,” Dr. Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, said in a media release. “The cells also reduced damaging inflammation and helped the mice eliminate the bacteria.”
Dr. McIntyre, an intensive care physician and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, was impressed by the results. “Researchers around the world have spent decades trying to find a therapy that will treat the root causes of septic shock rather than just the symptoms, but so far, none of these therapies have improved survival,” she said. “We don’t know whether the cell therapy played any role in Mr. Berniqué’ s remarkable recovery, but the cells were very well tolerated and we are excited to continue to study this promising therapy in more patients.”
Mesenchymal stem cells have been studied extensively in human clinical trials for other conditions, but The Ottawa Hospital trial is the first in the world to evaluate the cells specifically for the treatment of septic shock. The main goal of the Phase I trial is to evaluate the tolerability and feasibility of the cells. However, the researchers have already received funding from the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine to begin scaling up their cell bank for a larger Phase II trial, which will help determine if the therapy is effective against septic shock.
As for Mr. Berniqué, he’s grateful to be alive and happy that the care he received may do the same for others. “It is tremendous what The Ottawa Hospital did for me,” he said. “I was so close to death, but I received the best care in the world and got to participate in this study which could help many people.”