31ºF

Plasma treatment showing promise in Houston coronavirus patients

HOUSTON – Houston is leading the way in research to help patients recover for coronavirus. One treatment is showing promise in Houston patients battling the virus.

Houston Methodist and Baylor College of Medicine said the experimental therapies have positive results in sick patients. Houston Methodist was the first to begin these trials in the Houston area. This week, Baylor College of Medicine joined in.

"We are trying to offer all the possible opportunities for people to improve," said Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam of Baylor College of Medicine.

The key to the treatment is called COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma.

Doctors draw plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood that can fight the virus. Doctors can transfuse the donor's plasma into ill COVID-19 patients, who may not be immune from the virus yet.

In theory, the transfusion should help the sick patient recover. The research is ongoing across the globe.

Does plasma help COVID-19 patients?

A Chinese study of 10 patients found severe COVID-19 symptoms rapidly improved within three days after one dose of convalescent plasma. The study also discovered lung lesions improved within seven days, and the virus disappeared in blood in seven days.

Now, more testing is being done on patients in Houston and around the United States.

"What is really behind this whole effort is to make sure one can find the right donors. One can collect them in the proper way, assemble them, vet them, and make sure that they meet the criteria, there is a number of criteria," said Dr. Balasubramanyam.

The new process is complete with an IRB protocol under an Expanded Access program, which will make it easier for the donors and recipients to be organized. The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is integral to this study partnership with its plasma collection expertise. They are hoping to streamline survivor donations right to the patients who need it most.

"We are accepting donors, who have had a positive test for the virus," said Dr. Marsha Bertholf, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center. "They know they've had the infection. We can count on them having antibodies to fight off the disease."

Dr. Balasubramanyam said healthcare professionals are expected about the possibility.

"Ultimately, the goal is not to chase after the particular patient to find the particular donor but to set up a bank," Dr. Balasubramanyam said. "So, if you set up a bank with every kind of blood that meets the requirements, then every time the patient needs it. It's as easy as calling in for a transfusion."

Who can donate plasma?

In order to donate convalescent plasma, donors:

1. Must have had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis documented by a laboratory test.

2. Must have fully recovered from COVID-19 with no symptoms for at least 28 days before the donations. Or, recovered with no symptoms for 14 days and a second test with negative results.

3. Must meet all existing donor eligibility requirements.

If you or someone you know have proof of the virus, you can contact the blood center. If donors qualify, they can call Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4 pm to get on the waitlist. The number is 713-791-6373. You have first to be approved as an acceptable donor, before going to the blood bank. For more information on how you can donate, go to giveblood.org.

"So if you set up a bank with every kind of blood that meets the requirements, then every time the patient needs it, it's as easy as calling in for a transfusion," said Dr. Balasubramanyam. "That's our goal, and we are excited that we have managed to collaborate with the Gulf Coast Blood Center to set up this process."

Last week the FDA named the Mayo Clinic to lead the national COVID-19 Plasma Program. Through this effort, they'll be able to move thousands of units of plasma to patients who may need it in the coming weeks or months.

“The big thing in the next one to two weeks is identifying potential donors, getting those people to schedule to donate, and really getting that ball rolling so that we have a steady supply of this product to treat patients with,” said Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic. “I think this is going to be particularly helpful at the end of this wave and then very helpful in suppressing a second wave if it occurs.”