COLORADO SPRINGS — Convalescent plasma donated from people who have recovered from COVID-19 is now being used to treat some hospitalized patients at UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs.
UCHealth Memorial is now part of an FDA-regulated “expanded access treatment protocol,” which allows for the use of investigational treatments and provides broader access to convalescent plasma for sick patients.
As of May 19, fifteen patients at Memorial had received the plasma. The first doses went to patients on April 22, with the most recent infusion being done on Saturday, May 9.
Dr. Carl Bernas, an infectious disease specialist in Colorado Springs, is the principal investigator for the treatment protocol at UCHealth Memorial. (A video interview with Bernas is here [vimeo.com] for your use.)
Bernas said there are currently no study results that definitively show the plasma is a proven treatment, but “we are getting some anecdotal evidence that it's been associated with clinical improvements in some of the patients that we've already transfused it to.”
“What we are monitoring is whether or not there has been any serious adverse effects, and to the best of my knowledge it's been well-tolerated.”
When a person is infected with a virus, the immune system responds to that infection to try to get rid of it by developing antibodies to neutralize and defeat the virus and prevent it from attaching to its receptor.
Bernas said it appears people who receive the donated plasma early on in their illness tend to recover faster. The plasma contains antibodies that work to diminish the viral load in a sick patient; in essence, it’s someone else’s immune response working to benefit someone who is ill.
“I think if we can give it earlier on, I think it is probably more beneficial for the patient,” Bernas said.
“Our providers review the patient’s clinical course and determine if he/she is eligible to receive convalescent plasma in alignment with the treatment protocol,” said Elizabeth Graf, director of research administration for UCHealth in southern Colorado. “The physicians work closely with the blood bank, nursing staff and research staff to administer the convalescent plasma through standard blood transfusion processes within FDA regulations.”
Bernas said convalescent plasma treatments are not new and have been used in the past to treat infections where there have been no other options – namely during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. “Those are other types of coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19,” he said.
Bernas said he would like to thank people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have been willing to donate their plasma.
“I want to say that there’s a lot of unsung heroes out there. I think it’s really generous and very thoughtful …. It can be potentially a lifesaving product for some of our patients. So I just want to give my shout-out to those donors.”
People interested in learning more about the donation process can learn more here [uchealth.org]. In Colorado Springs, information about blood and plasma donation also can be found at www.vitalant.org [vitalant.org].
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