COVID-19 Research

“COVID-19 Research” is a new post series established to highlight the CBC universities and scientists who aid in the race to develop vaccine and / or cure to combat SARS CoV-2 — the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 14, 2020   I   Jola Glotzer

A gift of blood

A CBC member university — the UChicago Medicine — begins testing antiviral antibodies-containing plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients to see if it could help those still critically ill fight off the infection

Spring at UChicago. Source: Pinterest

Spring has arrived at the UChicago campus, but there is no one out there to enjoy it. The campus is unusually quiet and empty as students and other members of the UChicago community are staying home due to the social distancing requirement imposed on all of us by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One place, however, is still bustling with activity — the UChicago Medicine Hospitals — which, like so many other hospitals around the world, is doing its best to save the lives of those infected with the SARS CoV-2 virus, the COVID-19 causative pathogen. As the disease has no cure yet and can be fatal, especially to the elderly and those suffering from additional underlying chronic diseases, the race against time is on and our health care providers are trying any available means of treatment to ease the COVID-19 symptoms and prevent the development of serious complications such as lung and other organ failures, and eventually, death.

Yesterday, the UChicago Medicine announced the beginning of a clinical trial that would test a procedure with the potential to help the critically ill to fight off the COVID-19 infection. The theory behind the procedure is pretty straightforward: It requires extraction of plasma from blood donated by convalescent COVID-19 patients and then transfusing it into very sick patients. The premise of the trial is that the donated plasma, which contains anti-COVID-19 antibodies, could fortify the immunoresponse of the recipient against the coronavirus.

As UChicago stresses, this is just the beginning of a very long process. Even if the results of the trial are promising, many further safety and efficacy clinical tests will need to be run before the procedure becomes accepted as a treatment. But, with spring already here, hope is in the air that perhaps the donated plasma can at least buy the world more time while waiting for the development of more effective COVID-19 drugs and ultimately a vaccine.

Kudos, UChicago Medicine, for taking this enormous first step and fingers crossed that the clinical trial is successful! We are so very grateful to the recovered COVID-19 patients for volunteering to donate their blood and to each and every person in the health care workforce for tirelessly doing all the work to try to end this pandemic. Thank you ❣

April 13, 2020  |  Matt Wood  |  UChicago News

UChicago Medicine begins clinical trial to explore blood plasma transfusions for COVID-19 patients

Study is first step in knowing whether antibodies from those who have recovered can help others

UChicago Medicine is investigating whether transfusing plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 could help severely sick patients fight off the disease. Source: UChicago News. Image copyright:

The University of Chicago Medicine is launching a clinical trial to study whether blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat patients who are still in the hospital with severe disease symptoms.

The trial will recruit plasma donors from existing UChicago Medicine patients and from other people in Chicago who have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19. These plasma donations will be used to treat patients currently hospitalized at UChicago Medicine. The initial study will investigate only the safety and feasibility of procedures for identifying donors, collecting plasma donations and administering transfusions. Further study of the effectiveness of such a treatment will require additional trials.

“This trial is just the first step, but hopefully it will help us determine if plasma transfusions can be a treatment for critically ill patients with COVID-19,” said Asst. Prof. Maria Lucia Madariaga, a general thoracic and lung transplant surgeon at UChicago Medicine who is leading the clinical trial.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, hospitals around the world have begun testing convalescent plasma as a potential treatment, including those in China as well as in New York City and Houston.

“There has been a big barrier to widespread study in the United States because it requires broad cross-discipline collaboration,” Madariaga said. “At UChicago, we are really fortunate that we have all the teams required to perform a convalescent plasma trial under one roof — Biological Sciences Division, Blood Bank, Department of Medicine, Transplant Institute and the Department of Surgery.”

Plasma is the fluid in which blood cells are suspended. When someone is infected with a virus, the body’s immune system produces proteins called antibodies that can seek out and neutralize the virus. Transfusing plasma containing these antibodies to severely sick patients could give their immune system extra resources to fight off the infection. After a patient recovers, the antibodies stay in their blood and can provide immunity; however, it is not yet known how long a patient is immune once they have recovered from COVID-19.

Donating plasma for the trial is similar to donating blood. A single plasma donation from one patient can be used for multiple recipients. Participants will donate one unit of blood that can be transfused to current UChicago Medicine patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19 disease. Once the researchers assess the safety and viability of this process, they may begin additional trials to study the effectiveness of plasma transfusions as a treatment.

The researchers will recruit adults in Chicago who have tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood and participate in the study. Those interested in participating in the study and donating plasma may visit the COVID-19 convalescent plasma study website, email or call 773-702-5526.

—Story was first published on UChicago Medicine website.

Adapted (with modifications) from UChicago News, by Matt Wood, published on April 13, 2020.