Convalescent Plasma Therapy is Helpful in Recovery of COVID-19 Patients

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A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and another published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have found that plasma from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus indeed helps severely ill patients to recover. These findings can mean more clinical trials can be launched to judge the efficacy of plasma treatment for critical patients of COVID-19.

Right now, there is no vaccine, approved treatment option or prophylactic therapy available for coronavirus. Neither are any antivirals available for treatment. Many have pinned their hopes on this plasma therapy to carry us forward till a vaccine can be developed.

This plasma therapy involves the use of antibodies from recovered patients of coronavirus to treat other patients. The idea of such a therapy has been floating around since 1890s, when it was used to treat measles and mumps. This therapy can provide a person with capability to fight off the virus for a short period of time. Right now, it is being used by only those who are extremely critical condition and may not survive otherwise.

Source: COVID Plasma

The first study, published by Chinese scientists and funded by Ministry of Science and Technology, China, treated 10 patients who were critically ill with coronavirus infections. The study, conducted in Wuhan, found that when given this particular therapy, the virus in their bodies dropped rapidly. After three days of treatment, doctors saw clear signs of improvement, like reduction in chest pains, fever, cough and improvement in shortness of breath experienced by many patients.

Another study from Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital, China, gave the same plasma therapy to 5 patients. Patients were given the plasma between 10 and 22 days after admission. All of the patients were extremely ill and were on ventilators that were keeping them alive. After 10 days of therapy, 3 of the patients came off the ventilators. The computed tomography scans of the lungs of these patients showed clear improvements. One patient who was on ECMO, did not require it on 5 days after transfusion.

Researchers from both studies suggested further clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of this plasma therapy on larger patient samples.

Two elderly patients from South Korea have also recovered after receiving plasma therapy, according to a study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science.

Reluctantly Hopeful

These findings do suggest a possible positive outcome from the plasma therapy; however, experts are warning people to wait for results from large scale trials and their data. First, the number of participants in these trials were too small to make a generalization.

Second, the studies were not randomized control trials with sufficient enough sample size. Any therapy before it can be adopted has to show its potentials in randomized control trials, the gold standard of scientific studies.

Third, the patients in these studies were also given other antivirals and anti-malaria drugs. So, pinning all the hopes on plasma therapy is not valid at this stage.

Fourth, scientists and medical experts are telling people that this plasma therapy may not be made available to all people as its large-scale availability may be difficult. The therapy can be extremely expensive and right now every country is operating on limited resource settings when it comes to specialized equipment for this kind of therapy.

Fifth, a single donation of plasma from a patient can help produce enough transfusion for two people. However, the silver lining is that experts estimate that a single transfusion would be enough for a patient to fight the virus.

Other Trials

Many countries in the world have started working on this possible new therapy.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval to conduct trials on the convalescent plasma therapy in America.

Since the approval, 11 critically ill patients from New York and Houston have been given plasma therapy. The results are not out yet. Researchers at Mount Sinai have partnered up with FDA and also given the transfusions to three patients.

The most important trial in the US is being conducted by the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. Any person who has recovered from coronavirus and is 21 days past from the first onset of symptoms can donate his blood. 34 institutes are working simultaneously under this project. The self-organized project has already started working.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine in Baltimore has also started work on similar trials.

People who want to help and are in America can donate their blood if they have recovered from a diagnosed case of coronavirus, have been symptoms free for 14 days, are in good health, and are at least 17 years old with 110 pounds weight.

United Kingdom has also started working on similar scientific studies. The national blood service in UK has started screening blood from people to look for helpful antibodies.

Senior researcher, David Tappin, from University of Glasgow, has asked the UK’s National Health Service for permission to run two trials to see if these antibodies can help frontline workers from getting the COVID-19 in the first place along with possible improvements in patients with coronavirus infections.

A trial in France also started on Tuesday, April 7, involving 60 patients in a hospital in Paris. Half of these patients will receive the plasma therapy.

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