Ten severely ill patients with Covid-19 in China showed improvement following a plasma transfusion from healthy patients who had recovered from the illness, according to a recent study reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While sufficient research hasn’t yet been carried out to conclude whether or not treatment with plasma donations is an effective treatment for the disease, the fluid is now in high demand so that the necessary investigations can take place. A group of volunteers in America called Survivor Corps has since launched, made up of recovered Covid-19 patients who want to help keep research projects well-stocked.
When we get sick, our bodies launch an immune response to the invading pathogen, which in most cases results in the production of antibodies. Antibodies are protective proteins found in our blood that help to fight invading pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. These antibodies remain in the blood for a brief time, usually around three months, and can be extracted from a recovered patient via a plasma transfusion.
Plasma is a constituent of the blood that appears hay-colored when separated. In a convalescent plasma transfusion, the patient receiving the infusion of plasma can sometimes benefit from the donor’s antibodies. The donated plasma is intended to essentially provide a brief assist to the patient whose own immune system is struggling to get on top of the disease, buying them more time to mount a sufficient immune response.
Plasma, however, has a short shelf life, meaning that if it’s proven to be an effective treatment method, researchers will have to determine some kind of refinery process enabling isolated antibodies to be shipped far and wide without spoiling en route. This technique is already used in the treatment of rabies. Randomized clinical trials are beginning in the US and fortunately stocks of plasma are one thing the studies don’t need to worry about.
Thanks to a volunteer group of over 32,000 Covid-19 patients and survivors, a trial set to take place at Columbia University has at the time of writing a waitlist of 2,000 applicants. Survivor Corps, the ever-expanding grassroots movement, keeps its members updated on where they can donate and what clinical trials are available to them. The FDA has outlined that plasma can only be donated by individuals who have had a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19, are eligible blood donors, and have been without symptoms for a minimum of 14 days.
The NHS in the UK also recently announced they would begin research into the efficacy of plasma donations as a means of treatment for severe cases of Covid-19. In a statement, the organization said "We need people who’ve recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19) to donate blood plasma, as part of a potential clinical trial to help with the national effort against the virus.
"The trial, if approved, will tell us how effective convalescent plasma (plasma from people who’ve had coronavirus) is for treating coronavirus patients."
This isn’t the first-time plasma donations have been considered as a means of treatment, with the most recent examples including Ebola as well as the two coronaviruses SARS and MERS. For Covid-19, the therapy is still very much in the early stages, but under pandemic pressure, treatments are being pushed forward as fast as possible. However, there is still a great deal of research to be done in ascertaining convalescent plasma’s efficacy for the treatment of Covid-19.