Ever since the highly contagious novel coronavirus has invaded humans, it has become a challenge for scientists and governments to find a way to stop it. With no other alternative at hand, the only way to contain the spread of this virus is by trying to stay indoors as much as possible. The idea behind it is that if fewer people come in contact with each other, the transmission of the virus may hopefully stop.
As of 25th June 2020, the virus has infected around 9,129,146 people, out of which more than 4 lakh people are from India alone. While the scientists still work day and night to produce a vaccine for COVID-19, another option that is being focused upon is convalescent plasma therapy in COVID-19 treatment.
What is convalescent plasma therapy?
Plasma is the liquid part of the blood and convalescence refers to the process of recovering from an illness.
When we fall prey to any disease or infection, our immune system produces proteins and antibodies to fight off that disease and help us get cured. Antibodies are molecules that can recognize and fight the infection-causing germs like coronavirus. These antibodies are found in the plasma.
How is it done?
The first step of this process is to collect the blood from the recovered people. The FDA has ruled out certain requirements regarding who can donate blood for this purpose. Once the blood is collected, it undergoes a safety test following which the doctors separate the plasma from the blood of the recovered patients through a centrifugal process.
After this, a serological test is conducted on the blood to get an idea of the amount of antibodies that the blood may have.
Researches estimate that the blood of a single donor may have sufficient antibodies to help treat around 2-4 patients.
Finally, the plasma is transfused into the body of the person being treated.
Why is it considered so promising?
This 100-year old treatment method has successfully treated diseases like measles, polio, and chickenpox. In fact, this method has been observed to have helped in previous outbreaks of SARS in 2003, H1N1 influenza virus in 2009-2010 and MERS of 2012.
In two recent studies in China, convalescent plasma therapy was performed on severely ill COVID-19 patients. In one study, 5 severely ill COVID-19 patients who also had acute respiratory distress syndrome recovered entirely. In the second study, 10 patients with COVID-19 received the therapy and showed improvement in their symptoms and didn’t exhibit any severe side effects.
However, since both these studies were performed on very small cohorts, the need for clinical trials remains significant to prove the effectiveness of convalescent plasma therapy in COVID-19 treatment.
The ongoing procedure
In the daily press conference hosted by the Health Ministry, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) said that it is finalizing the protocol for Convalescent Plasma Therapy. The protocols will then be shared with the Drug Controller General of India(DCGI) for the final approval. Once the approvals are received, the clinical trials to check its safety and effectiveness will begin.
If the clinical trials are successful, this will be rolled out for patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19, not for people with mild symptoms.
This procedure may not only most effectively treat people with severe symptoms but may also prevent the worsening of symptoms in people who are moderately sick.
However, it is noteworthy that plasma therapy for COVID-19 treatment is still being experimented and has not yet been approved as a treatment protocol.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Situation Report – 156. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200624-covid-19-sitrep-156.pdf?sfvrsn=af42e480_2
2. Convalescent Plasma: A Therapy for COVID-19? Discovery Edge (Mayoclinic’s Research Magazine). https://discoverysedge.mayo.edu/2020/04/06/convalescent-plasma-a-therapy-for-covid-19/?_ga=2.241280514.1805299896.1586504512-1377580889.1586504512
3. Press Briefing on the actions taken, preparedness and updates on COVID-19, Dated: 09.04.2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV4bXYkChzE