Hospitals in New York City are gearing up to use the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19 as a possible antidote for the disease. Researchers hope that the century-old approach of infusing patients with the antibody-laden blood of those who have survived an infection will help the metropolis — now the US epicentre of the outbreak — to avoid the fate of Italy, where intensive-care units (ICUs) are so crowded that doctors have turned away patients who need ventilators to breathe.
The efforts follow studies in China that attempted the measure with plasma — the fraction of blood that contains antibodies, but not red blood cells — from people who had recovered from COVID-19. But these studies have reported only preliminary results so far. The convalescent-plasma approach has also seen modest success during past severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola outbreaks — but US researchers are hoping to increase the value of the treatment by selecting donor blood that is packed with antibodies and giving it to the patients who are most likely to benefit.
A key advantage to convalescent plasma is that it’s available immediately, whereas drugs and vaccines take months or years to develop. Infusing blood in this way seems to be relatively safe, provided that it is screened for viruses and other infectious agents. Scientists who have led the charge to use plasma want to deploy it now as a stopgap measure, to keep serious infections at bay and hospitals afloat as a tsunami of cases comes crashing their way.
“Every patient that we can keep out of the ICU is a huge logistical victory because there are traffic jams in hospitals,” says Michael Joyner, an anaesthesiologist and physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “We need to get this on board as soon as possible, and pray that a surge doesn’t overwhelm places like New York and the west coast.”
On 23 March, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the plan to use convalescent plasma to aid the response in the state, which has more than 25,000 infections, with 210 deaths. “We think it shows promise,” he said. Thanks to the researchers’ efforts, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that it will permit the emergency use of plasma for patients in need. As early as next week, at least two hospitals in New York City — Mount Sinai and Albert Einstein College of Medicine — hope to start using coronavirus-survivor plasma to treat people with the disease, Joyner says. [Continue reading…]