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Doctors hope potential cure for COVID-19 pandemic lies in convalescent plasma

DiverDave | Wikimedia Commons

The cure for COVID-19 could take months or years to fabricate, but time is running out in New York. Many medical researchers believe they have found a potential solution to the pandemic through the use of blood, or convalescent plasma, from patients who survived the virus.

After defeating the virus, COVID-19 survivors have antibodies in their bloodstream that could combat another possible case. Convalescent plasma, as the name suggests, only uses the plasma portion of blood, where the antibodies are plentiful. The antibodies present in the plasma fight off the virus with a higher success rate.

Before using the blood of a virus survivor, however, it needs to be checked for any other viruses or ill attachments. The entire process is quick, safe and inexpensive as the use of blood is cheap and reliable. The method can be traced back to the 1890s and 1918 when an influenza virus pandemic was present. The method has also been used to battle the effects of other viral diseases such as Ebola and severe acute respiratory syndrome. In February, China’s researchers conducted studies on the use of plasma, but the information is still not reported. An infectious disease specialist from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China stated that 13 people who were in critical condition felt better in a few days after being injected with plasma that contained vital antibodies. The new plasma treatment has received attention from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced plans to implement it into at least two hospitals. This could help decrease the amount of cases in New York which, as of April 22, is up to 251,000 positive cases.

Currently, medical workers are trying to compose large amounts of antibodies in plasma and target the patients who need it the most. With the help of an immunologist from Johns Hopkins University, the method has garnered attention from various media outlets. An article was published in The Wall Street Journal on the topic and distributed to many medical professionals working on how to care for COVID-19 patients. A collaborative group of researchers shared documents with the Food and Drug Administration and institutional ethical-review boards for clearance. Since the FDA approved the method, there has been a continued effort to conduct controlled U.S. trials at Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Washington University.

Three different methods of application are currently being tested. The first method is implemented at an early stage of the disease, the second in severe cases and the third as a preventative measure. After all of these clinical trials are confirmed as successes, the convalescent plasma method will be synthesized into a vaccine and distributed.

Liise-anne Pirofski, an infectious disease specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is part of the U.S. trials and comments on how willing virus survivors are to donate their blood. Pirofski remarks how unsettling the current situation is and how it is reminding her of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s.

While the method shows promise, it is highly likely that it will be replaced by more advanced methods in the future. For now, however, the convalescent plasma can be used as a stopgap measure to treat common symptoms and improve the chances of survival in those infected. Convalescent plasma is a united effort by those who survived COVID-19 and the medical workers who seek to end the pandemic.

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