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What is plasma therapy, and how does it work to treat the coronavirus? Everything you need to know

  • What is plasma therapy, and how does it work to treat the coronavirus? Everything you need to know
    The future of convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19  What is plasma therapy, and how does it work to treat the coronavirus? Everything you need to know
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What is convalescent plasma and how does it work?
According to the FDA, convalescent plasma is the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. These patients develop antibodies, proteins that might help fight the infection.

 It's still considered experimental during the coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there’s no approved treatment for COVID-19.

Congressmen and celebrities have donated plasma after recovering from COVID-19 and urge others to do the same. Before you do, here's everything you need to know about convalescent plasma therapy. 

What is convalescent plasma and how does it work?
According to the FDA, convalescent plasma is the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. These patients develop antibodies, proteins that might help fight the infection.

Plasma from survivors gives patients an immediate injection of virus-fighting antibodies so they don't have to wait for their own immune systems to kick in. The use of plasma from survivors to treat those sick with the same illness goes back more than a century and has been used to stem outbreaks of polio, measles, mumps and influenza. 

Plasma therapy shows promise as potential coronavirus treatment
Though studies suggest convalescent plasma therapy is effective in combating other coronaviruses, there has been little evidence to suggest it can do the same for SARS-CoV-2. 

The FDA issued guidance for health care providers that recommends using convalescent plasma therapy for clinical trials and patients with serious or immediately life-threatening disease who aren’t eligible to participate in trials.

In a Johns Hopkins University study, more than 16,000 Americans with COVID-19 were infused with plasma from recovered patients, and no major safety issues were reported. 

Dr. Shmuel Shoham, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, is involved in two randomized, controlled studies at the university looking at convalescent plasma as a prevention method and treatment for COVID-19 in an outpatient setting. Although there aren't any preliminary results from those two studies, previous studies give him a “glimmer of hope.”

The future of convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 
An obstacle for convalescent plasma therapy is supply. 

Unlike manufactured antimicrobial medicines, convalescent plasma is a natural treatment that must be harvested from recovered COVID-19 patients who meet the criteria and are willing to donate. 

Van Buskirk said declining infection rates in some parts of the country  have allowed the Mayo Clinic to build up inventory, but they've also made it more difficult to find donors. 

"We’re hoping if everyone can get out there and collect as much as they can that we’ll have enough for the next wave that comes along," she said. Many experts predict that wave of infections will be in the fall. 

Plasma can be frozen and stored for up to 18 months.