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It's safe to say there'll be no coronavirus vaccine available in the near future — or even this year. In lieu of one on the proverbial horizon, doctors at UCSF have started using plasma infusions that contain COVID-19 antibodies as a treatment method for the infection.
Unlike our "sarcastic" president — who insinuated (to millions on live television) that ingesting cleaning products could remedy coronavirus symptoms — science is credible; it's predicated on concrete facts, not hollow assumptions. And it's this very evidence-backed way of thinking that led doctors at UCSF to pursue and implement a new treatment strategy for coronavirus patients: COVID-19-antibody-rich plasma injections.
ABC7 reported on the new healing technique directed by doctors and researchers at both UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG). Dr. Chin-Hong, the medical professional directing the study, said it has taken a lot of teamwork to get where they are now, mentioning they've jumped through many hurdles to get the program underway.
"A big symbolic moment, because even though we're not sure yet if this will be independently beneficial, given our experience with convalescent plasma and other infectious diseases, there's a lot of biologic possibilities that it might work — we just don't know for sure with COVID-19," Chin-Hong said. He later noted that the antibodies obtained from the plasma of recovered patients may act like a "stun gun" in the bodies of those being treated, helping to slow down the replication of the virus.
"We know they've been successful in fighting their own infection, we can harvest those antibodies as easy as giving blood and then transfuse it into a patient who may not have had those antibodies developed yet," Chin-Hong added. "The role of the antibody is like a virus stun gun. You point it at the virus and it kind of stops in its tracks. So [there are] two parts, there's a virus and it's making kid viruses, and then there's the organ damage. So we hope by stunning the virus at least it's not making more so the organs can heal over time."
The treatment strategy sought by Chin-Hong and his team has proven successful in past virus outbreaks. "Convalescent plasma (CP) therapy," as it's understood as in more academic circles, was helpful in treating SARS, MERS, and H1N1 patients during past pandemics, though these therapies were often used in severe cases, suggesting it was a last-resort measure. Nevertheless, a recent article published in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS confirmed previous successes in CP therapy for the disease and that it could still be useful now — "CP can serve as a promising rescue option for severe COVID-19."
In order to continue the work, doctors at UCSF are asking adults who have recovered from COVID-19, and remained symptom-free for at least 28 days, to give plasma and blood: "We need to illicit donors from the community to come out and really enrich the system, with product so that so we can have more options of all blood types to get some of this," Chin-Hong said.
Those who wish to give their fluids in the name of science can go into any blood bank, but just be ready to show documentation that you did test positive for the virus. Plasma donors can also opt to go straight to ZSFG to start the process. After testing positive for the antibodies, givers will then be referred to Vitalant, a national nonprofit that collects blood donations, for a final blood draw.
CP therapy could well prove to be a literal lifesaver for thousands in the ensuing months.
"[COVID-19] is here for a while until we have the vaccine in 12 to18 months so it really is imperative upon us to find therapies so that we can [use it for] sick patients when they need them," Chin-Hong said in closing.
For more on CP therapy and UCSF's research, as well as additional information for interested plasma donors, visit ucsf.edu/covid-19-survivor-screening-convalescent-plasma-donation.
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Image: Courtesy of Moody Air Force base