COVID-19 Cure? Convalescent Plasma Therapy Trial Launches in Chicago

Patients who have recovered from the coronavirus can help those struggling to fight the disease, as part of a clinical trial just launched by University of Chicago Medicine – the first trial of its kind in the area.

Convalescent plasma therapy is a technique previously used to fight other pandemics, including measles, SARS and MERS.

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“It relies on the principle of passive immunity where you want to take plasma from a person who has recovered from the disease, that likely has antivirus antibodies, and then transfuse it into a person who’s currently sick with the disease in hopes of making them recover,” said Dr. Marcia Lucia Madariaga, the surgeon leading the clinical trial. “While we are waiting for other therapeutics to come on board, and a vaccine, it is an important stopgap measure to help people who are with severe COVID-19.”

UChicago Medicine began screening donors on Friday, with hopes of transfusing blood to a patient with a life-threatening or critical case of COVID-19 as soon as there’s a blood match.

The university’s hospital is currently treating about 120 patients for the novel coronavirus, but at the trial’s initial stage, only 10 patients will receive the plasma therapy.

Madariaga said should the preliminary portion of the trial prove the therapy to be safe and feasible, they hope to be able to expand.

At the same time, they’re looking for as many plasma donors as possible.

Only those tested and confirmed to have COVID-19 are eligible at this point. UChicago asks that potential donors complete a questionnaire online, or email [email protected] or call 773-702-5526.

The entire process, Madariaga, said takes roughly a half hour, and she said the hospital has taken precautionary measures to ensure it’s sanitary and safe.

The trial’s co-investigator, U of C immunologist Patrick Wilson, said the plasma will ideally be taken from a donor 28 days after he or she has recovered from COVID-19. By then, a donor will no longer be contagious and infected.

But it’s also when the plasma is believed to be maximally effective.

“The amount of antibody that’s against the virus will have peaked at 28 days,” he said.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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