Plasma has helped COVID-19 patients recover: Can it help before symptoms set in?

Medical Watch

For months, there’s been talking about convalescent plasma and using immune-boosting antibodies taken from a donor who has recovered from COVID-19 and given to a patient still suffering with the infection. Many hospitalized patients have received the treatment – but can it help those before symptoms set in? Now, there’s a nationwide push to put plasma to the test.

The yellow liquid holds the gold – antibodies live in a part of the blood called plasma.

Dr Giselle Mosnaim is an allergist and immunologist with Northshore University Heathsystem

“These antibodies are proteins that can glom onto the virus and mark it for destruction and prevent the virus from multiplying,” Mosnaim said.

It’s harvested through the same process as a blood donation. Not every COVID-19 survivor has what’s known as high titer antibodies – but about 70 to 80 percent do.

“We want to make sure we have what we call ‘high octane antibodies,’” Mosnaim said. “So we want to use plasma from people that mounted a good strong response to COVID-19 to help protect patients who will receive these transfusions.”

Convalescent plasma studies done in hospitalized patients have shown promise.

“There’s been a large study out of Mayo Clinic over 70,000 patients received convalescent plasma in the hospital setting and it was shown to have potential benefit and that benefit outweighed the risks,” Mosnaim said.  “But what we’re doing is looking at the use of convalescent plasma to treat people who are still at home people who are not in the hospital.”

Mosnaim and her colleagues are looking at two different groups. The first were high-risk exposures. That’s people who have been exposed to the virus through a close contact.

“But you don’t have symptoms yet, you don’t have a positive test,” Mosnaim said. “We can give you convalescent plasma to prevent infection.”

The second group are patients who have tested positive and have had symptoms for no more than eight days.

“We can give convalescent plasma to prevent hospitalization, prevent worsening of symptoms,” Mosnaim said.

Patients in the study will receive a one cup infusion – either plasma or placebo — that takes about an hour. After, they’ll be monitored for any immediate reactions. And as the COVID-19 vaccine makes its way to healthcare workers this week, Mosnaim said convalescent plasma has a more immediate benefit.

“For a vaccine, the current vaccines that we’re talking about you have to get two doses either 21 or 28 days apart,” Mosnaim said. “And you really have to wait a week or two after the second dose for immunity to be optimized. So really with the convalescent plasma you’re getting that immunity immediately, same day. …  We all want to get back to a normal functioning society and this is an opportunity for all of us to work together toward that goal.”

The study is being done in partnership with Johns Hopkins University at 30 sites all over the country.

The convalescent plasma study is funded by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. For more information, call 224-364-7473; email plasmastudy@northshore.org or visit northshore.org/covid-studies.

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