Coronavirus update: UChicago launches COVID-19 blood plasma trial, testing recovered antibodies on sick patients

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, hospitals around the world have begun testing convalescent plasma as a potential treatment.

The University of Chicago Medicine is one facility who is launching a COVID-19 blood plasma clinical trial to study how those who have recovered may be able to help others with severe symptoms. The goal of this research is to determine the safety and feasibility of the treatment, also known as convalescent plasma therapy.

The trial is recruiting plasma donors form existing UChicago Medicine patents, as well as other who what tested positive and recovered from the coronavirus in Chicago.

"There has been a big barrier to widespread study in the United States because it requires broad cross-discipline collaboration," said Madariaga. "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."

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The 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.

Officials say 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 Maria Lucia Madariaga, MD, a general thoracic and lung transplant surgeon at UChicago Medicine who is leading the clinical trial.

Researchers say when someone is infected with the virus, the body's immune system produces proteins called antibodies that can seek out and neutralize the virus. They believe transfusing plasma containing these antibodies to severely sick patients could give their immune system extra resources to fight off the infection.

In theory, 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, official said.

Officials say donating plasma for the trial is similar to donating blood. A single plasma donation from one patient can be used for multiple recipients. 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.

Those interested in participating in the study and donating plasma may visit the COVID-19 convalescent plasma study website at https://is.gd/donateplasma, email plasma@uchospitals.edu or call 773-702-5526.
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