Possible Life-Saving Treatment for Coronavirus Patients: Blood Plasma Therapy

May 1, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Michele Lyne Donato, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cancer Care.

By: Katie Woehnker

With no proven treatment for COVID-19, research teams around the world are seeking to better understand the disease and how to treat patients who are experiencing the life-threatening illness. One possible treatment recently came to light – infusing plasma rich with antibodies, donated from recovered COVID-19 patients, into very ill COVID-19 patients.

Michele Donato, M.D., FACP, CPE, chief of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, shed some light on the blood plasma therapy research her team is conducting. Here’s what we know:

To understand how this type of treatment works, let’s break down how a virus enters the body and how our immune system reacts.

  1. Virus invasion – When a virus enters the body it seeks to infect as many cells as possible before it’s detected by the body’s immune system.
  2. Alerting the troops – Once the immune system recognizes the intruder, it will send out proteins called antibodies.
  3. Time for battle – The antibodies attach themselves to the virus, preventing the virus from infecting additional cells; thus allowing the body to then attack and destroy the infected cells.

How does plasma therapy work against COVID-19?

By infusing the antibody-rich plasma of a recovered patient into an infected patient, the goal is for the antibodies to start fighting off the virus, allowing the infected patient’s body to start ramping up its own defense.

Sound familiar? This type of treatment has previously been used to fight other viral outbreaks including a virus that’s cousin to the one responsible for COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which sickened thousands in 2002-2003.

Can all recovered patients donate blood?

Donation participants must be between the ages of 18 and 60, have a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19 and be at least 14 days without symptoms.

“Our researchers will first obtain a small blood sample from the recovered volunteer, and we’ll then test the blood to find those who have developed the highest levels of targeted antibodies in response to the virus,” explains Dr. Donato.

The patients with the highest level of antibodies will be asked to return and provide a larger plasma donation, which will then be used for infusing into very sick COVID-19 patients. The patient’s blood type must match the donor’s blood type.

If you, or someone you know, have recovered from COVID-19 and are interested in donating, you can fill out this survey. You may also look to donate through your local blood bank, including Vitalant, the New York Blood Center or Red Cross.

Which patients are eligible for this treatment, and when will it be available?

This investigational treatment has already begun for a small group of patients across Hackensack Meridian Health. There are a number of factors taken into account when determining who is eligible, including age, severity of disease and prior response to transfusion therapy.

“We are really racing against time – people are getting sick right now, and we’re working night and day to save as many lives as possible,” Dr. Donato shares.

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.