To develop a treatment for patients with COVID-19, researchers around the world are steadfastly exploring numerous angles, including testing existing antiviral drugs and new compounds. One potential treatment that has garnered attention is known as convalescent plasma therapy. The approach involves giving patients an infusion of antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
"Mayo Clinic has mobilized quickly to advance convalescent plasma in a scientific way," says anesthesiologist Michael J. Joyner, M.D., principal investigator of the Convalescent Plasma Expanded Access Program.
Mayo Clinic is the lead institution providing coordinated access to investigational convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19, or those at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease. This national effort will collect plasma from donors who meet several criteria established by the Food and Drug Administration.
The treatment is based on the function of antibodies, proteins created by the immune system that combat invaders to the body in a variety of ways. Some are capable of neutralizing a virus, while others work by mobilizing a range of other immune cells that fight off disease. It's not yet known by which mechanism COVID-19 antibodies might work, but the thinking is that an infusion of convalescent plasma may boost a generalized response, known as passive immunity, until a patient develops a strong, targeted ability to fight the virus.
The idea of a treatment derived from recovering patients is not new. Doctors used serum — plasma with the clotting factors removed — as far back as the 1890s. In fact, serum was the only treatment option for certain infectious diseases until antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s. In 1934, doctors used convalescent serum and successfully halted an outbreak of measles at a Pennsylvania school. During more recent global outbreaks, researchers tested convalescent plasma in small clinical studies and found it had positive effects against coronaviruses that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome, as well as against H1N1 influenza. However, the very same approach turned out not to be effective against Ebola, a filovirus.
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