Doctors look into plasma transfusions to fight COVID-19

Michigan News

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A grassroots effort behind a national database for donated plasma to fight COVID-19 has ties to Michigan State University.

The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project is “a group of physicians and scientists from 34 institutions in 17 states who have self-organized for the purpose of investigating the use of convalescent plasma in the current COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the project’s website.

Dr. Nigel Paneth, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University, is one of the leaders spearheading the project. It creates a national database of plasma donors and provides resources related to the treatment option for medical professionals and the public. 

As of Monday afternoon, more then 3,750 people from around the country who have recovered from COVID-19 signed up to donate through the project. 

“The goal of this long term is to try to reduce the burden of severe illness, you know, as much as we can,” Dr. Paneth said. 

Two weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved use of convalescent plasma in severely-ill COVID-19 patients. The agency is also supporting a related study led by the Mayo Clinic.

When someone recovers from the coronavirus, the person’s body creates antibodies that build immunity for the future.

Plasma donated by a recovered patient can then be given to a sick patient to help them fight off the virus, Dr. Paneth explained.

“It’s still the best, we think, the best stopgap measure,” Dr. Paneth added. “Although, we would like to see trials done. You can’t assume because it worked for pneumococcal pneumonia in the 1930’s, we (should) assume it works for COVID-19 in the 2020’s, right?” 

He and other researchers involved in the project are teaming up with blood banks around the country, like the American Red Cross, to solidify a nationwide network. It will make it easier for physicians to find donated plasma, as well as help project leaders track its effectiveness on a national scale.

“We’re advancing on three fronts,” Dr. Paneth said. “Compassionate use for the very sick, where most of us don’t think it’ll be all that helpful. Use is now authorized for the people who are infected, but not yet severely ill and that will be done clinically, I suppose, by many people. And the first trial, which is in the uninfected as of yet.”

You can learn more about the project through its website. Physicians can also register patients if they’re using convalescent plasma for treatment in order to help the project track effectiveness.

News 8 reached out to West Michigan health systems for perspective on the treatment option. 

“The use of plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat patients who are acutely-ill with COVID-19 has been reported and is an excellent idea,” said Ronald Grifka, Chief Medical Officer, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health. “This has the potential of being a very successful treatment, however, transfusing plasma has many inherent limitations and complications, as do all blood component transfusions. “This needs to be evaluated in more detail before plasma transfusion becomes a standard therapy.”

Spectrum Health replied that it was too premature to discuss the treatment option at this point.

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