Editor’s note: To read more about how UChicago is on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, visit the Confronting COVID-19 website.
The University of Chicago Medicine is launching a clinical trial to study whether blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat patients who are still in the hospital with severe disease symptoms.
The trial will recruit plasma donors from existing UChicago Medicine patients and from other people in Chicago who have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19. These 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. 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 Asst. Prof. Maria Lucia Madariaga, a general thoracic and lung transplant surgeon at UChicago Medicine who is leading the clinical trial.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, hospitals around the world have begun testing convalescent plasma as a potential treatment, including those in China as well as in New York City and Houston.
“There has been a big barrier to widespread study in the United States because it requires broad cross-discipline collaboration,” Madariaga said. “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.”
Plasma is the fluid in which blood cells are suspended. When someone is infected with a virus, the body’s immune system produces proteins called antibodies that can seek out and neutralize the virus. Transfusing plasma containing these antibodies to severely sick patients could give their immune system extra resources to fight off the infection. 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.
Donating plasma for the trial is similar to donating blood. A single plasma donation from one patient can be used for multiple recipients. Participants will donate one unit of blood that can be transfused to current UChicago Medicine patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19 disease. 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.
The researchers will recruit adults in Chicago who have tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood and participate in the study. Those interested in participating in the study and donating plasma may visit the COVID-19 convalescent plasma study website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-702-5526.