Ottawa researchers use stem cells to treat septic shock

In helping an eastern Ontario man recover from a near-fatal infection, researchers at The Ottawa Hospital say they have conducted the world's first clinical trial using stem cells to treat septic shock.

More than 100,000 cases of septic shock in Canada each year

Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre is one of the lead researchers behind The Ottawa Hospital's clinical trial using stem cells to treat septic shock. (The Ottawa Hospital)

In helping an eastern Ontario man recover from a near-fatal infection, researchers at The Ottawa Hospital say they have conducted the world's first clinical trial using stem cells to treat septic shock.

Charles Berniqué from Hawkesbury developed an infection last June after his esophagus burst, possibly due to a severe case of food poisoning, according to a news release from the hospital.

The Ottawa Hospital's researchers used mesenchymal stem cells to treat septic shock in its clinical trial. (Saad Khan)
The 73-year-old grandfather then went into septic shock, a potentially deadly condition that occurs when an uncontrolled infection leads to hyper-activation of the immune system, which can cause organs to fail.

Surgeons at The Ottawa Hospital placed him in an induced coma in intensive care, and consulted with his wife Maureen about taking part in a clinical trial using stem cells to treat septic shock.

She agreed, and within a day, Berniqué received an intravenous dose of mesenchymal stem cells grown in a hospital facility and originally extracted from the bone marrow of an Ottawa volunteer. He eventually recovered, and returned home after three months' recovery.

First ever clinical trial of stem cells for septic shock

The Ottawa Hospital's trial is called "Cellular Immunotherapy for Septic Shock," and is the result of research led by Dr. Duncan Stewart and Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre. 

While mesenchymal stem cells have been used in clinical trials for other conditions, this is the first trial in the world to see how the cells specifically treat septic shock, according to the hospital's news release.

More than 100,000 Canadians suffer from septic shock every year, and between 20 and 40 per cent of patients do not survive.

Researchers say that while it's too early to know the role the stem cells played in Berniqué's recovery, they were encouraged by how his body tolerated them, and they plan to continue the therapy in more patients.