- In the absence of a coronavirus cure that could prevent complications and significantly reduce the risk of death, doctors have been trying all sorts of therapies to save lives, including plasma transfusion.
- A brand new study shows that COVID-19 patients who receive plasma containing high quantities of neutralizing antibodies within three days from admission are less likely to die than patients who aren’t given a transfusion.
- The therapy can be administered as long as there’s enough plasm to go around, but any COVID-19 survivor can donate plasma to a local hospital to help with efforts to save lives.
When you discover a new infectious disease that doesn’t respond to any treatment, there’s one therapy you can attempt, assuming you have access to patients who manage to beat the infection on their own. It’s a therapy that has worked in a variety of other instances where effective drugs were not available for a new contagion, and has been successfully treating severe coronavirus cases already.
The first plasma transfusions proved to be effective in the early months of the pandemic, saving the lives of patients experiencing severe complications that could lead to death. But those observations were not enough to prove that plasma therapy is a valid treatment option for severe COVID-19 cases, so several studies were kickstarted to gauge the efficacy of the treatment. The results of the first significant study are in, and they show that plasma transfusions can reduce complications and save lives.
Plasma is a component of the blood that includes tiny particles that block viruses from infecting cells. People who survived COVID-19 can donate plasma rich in immune cells, and physicians can use it on matching patients to attempt to save their lives. The challenge is that the donors have to be willing to share their plasma. The good news is that anyone who survived COVID-19 can donate plasma to any hospitals that accept it. Furthermore, these early findings all but confirm that injecting foreign antibodies into the human body can save lives, and that’s excellent news for therapies based on artificial monoclonal antibodies.
Doctors from the Houston Methodist hospitals enrolled 316 patients from March 28th to July 6th in its ample COVID-19 plasma study, comparing the outcome of plasma therapy to a control group of COVID-19 patients who had not received plasma. The researchers followed the patients for 28 days and concluded that plasma therapy can significantly reduce mortality rates in patients that are transfused within three days from being admitted to the hospital with plasma that contains a high titer of neutralizing antibodies.
The study concludes that plasma therapy works, but only in certain conditions. First, patients should receive the transfusion as early as possible after presenting themselves to the hospital. Furthermore, the plasma has to have a high concentration of circulating antibodies.
Furthermore, certain types of patients may be more likely to survive after plasma transfusions from survivors than others. Here’s what the cohort of transfused patients looked like in the study:
Relative to non-transfused patients transfused patients generally were younger, predominantly male, had a higher BMI, lower rates of comorbidities (specifically, chronic pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, hyperlipidemia, coronary disease, and hypertension, but not diabetes), a higher requirement for supplemental oxygen, and higher inflammatory marker concentrations. Use of steroids, azithromycin, and tocilizumab was more common among the transfused cohort, but use of Remdesivir was not.
Diabetes is a major risk factor for COVID-19. Tocilizumab is a drug that has been tried in different COVID-19 studies with promising results and could be used to save lives.
Also important is the fact that the study isn’t a randomized, controlled trial, which is usually the standard in medical studies that assess new therapies.
However, the findings are still very promising. They could provide further guidance for plasma therapies in COVID-19 patients going forward, including treatments based on the monoclonal antibody drugs that are currently in advanced stages of clinical trials.
The study also proves that donating plasma isn’t in vain. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you should consider donating plasma to your hospitals so that it can be used as quickly as possible in COVID-19 therapies. The study has been peer-reviewed, and was published in The American Journal of Pathology.