The hunt for COVID-19 treatments have been intensifying. Hydroxychloroquine has not living up to President Trump’s hype, forcing researchers look elsewhere for effective therapies. One promising treatment comes from a method developed over 100 years ago.
A study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science has reported exciting results on the use of convalescent plasma (CP) therapy in treating COVID-19. “Convalescent plasma” sounds extremely sci-fi, but the underlying science is quite understandable. To fight off an infectious disease like COVID-19 the immune system produces antibodies that target the disease. These antibodies will stay in the blood long after the infection is gone to stop reinfection.
In CP therapy, individuals who have survived an infection like COVID-19 will donate their blood. Antibody containing plasma is filtered out, and then transfused into a COVID-19 patient. Antibodies from the donor will then help fight off the infection in the receiver. The origins of this treatment go back over a century and it was even used in the Spanish flu pandemic.
This new study looked at ten individuals with severe COVID-19. The group was diverse in terms of age, symptoms, gender, and preexisting conditions. Each individual was treated with 200 mL of blood plasma from someone who had recovered from COVID-19. After just 1–3 days the patients saw reductions in fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pains. The researchers also found that blood oxygen levels, white blood cell counts, and chest x-rays improved after CP therapy. The test group was compared to a control* group, and it was found that the treatment group had substantially better outcomes.
These results are very exciting. Having a therapy that could be used to treat severe cases of COVID-19 could reduce casualties. Since CP therapy is quite labor intensive it is unlikely that every case of COVID-19 will be able to receive a transfusion. Still, CP has the potential to limit the impact of coronavirus, and could save many lives.
*Control — the group that acted as a control in this study was not a true control. The researchers selected a group of similar patients who has previously been treated at the same hospital. They were not given placebo, and were not treated in parallel with the treatment group. Clinical trials, like those already in the works, will likely use a proper control group.
This is part of a series on preliminary research that relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. As this covers papers that are not finalized in an area of study that is evolving rapidly, it is possible that some of this research will end up being modified, and should be taken as such. Other articles in this series cover hydroxychloroquine, weather’s effect on COVID-19, the use of masks and airborne transmission.
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