Coronavirus: ‘Convalescent plasma’ study to begin at Massachusetts hospital

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BOSTON — It’s a therapeutic idea based on the most basic immunological principle: In theory, the antibodies produced by one COVID-19 survivor should help to fight the disease off in someone still ill.

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“One can measure antibodies, which have developed after an infection,” said Dr. Peter Schur of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That’s a normal immune response.”

It's a tried and true concept used to fight other serious diseases. But against COVID-19, it's a theory yet to be tested in the United States.

“We don't have any other treatment, at present,” Schur said. “And that's why people are looking at different avenues.”

They are also looking at a Chinese study published two weeks ago in the journal of the American Medical Association.

It showed five severely ill COVID-19 patients of various ages and all on ventilators who recovered within two weeks after transfusions of 'convalescent plasma.'

Despite the promising results of that Chinese study, the FDA is not saying for sure that plasma from previously ill patients will cure COVID-19 infections. But with no vaccine out there, and the risk of transfusing plasma low, the agency is giving the idea its blessing.

And so the Red Cross put out a call for donations of plasma from the previously infected, though not all will qualify.

Donors must be at least 17 years old, healthy and weigh at least 110 pounds. A prior COVID-19 diagnosis is key, of course, with at least two weeks of no symptoms.

“Well it's a cumbersome way, but it's often being tried in other situations and been successful,” said Dr. Samuel Bogoch of Replikins Ltd. “So it certainly should be tried.”

And it will be tried at Brigham and Women's, where a study of convalescent plasma will begin soon.

“They are identifying people who have recovered from the virus infection and have antibodies in their blood,” Dr. Schur said.

Stock photo of a hospital bed.
Stock photo of a hospital bed. (Dana Neely / Stone / Getty Images)