Hoxworth Blood Center, local hospitals exploring how plasma could help in fight against COVID-19

Posted at 12:33 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 19:13:04-04

CINCINNATI — In addition to addressing a shortage of blood donations throughout the region, Hoxworth Blood Center and local hospitals are partnering to see if they can develop a treatment for the coronavirus using plasma.

The hope is that convalescent plasma -- that is, plasma from donors who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19 -- could help local hospitals develop more effective treatments for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The theory is that such convalescent plasma would contain antibodies that were effective in fighting the disease in the donor and could possibly benefit the recipient.

UC Health physician Dr. Robert Ernst was one of the first COVID-19 survivors to donate his plasma for testing.

"I am thankful that I recovered and my family is healthy," he said. "Anything I can do to help anyone that is struggling with the disease I am more than happy to help."

UC Health physician, Dr. Robert Ernst, survived COVID-19. He is seen here donating plasma for testing.

In the case of COVID-19, it's still just a theory being tested.

"What’s being discussed today is convalescent plasma, and there is an urgent need for that," said Dr. David Oh, Hoxworth's chief medical officer. "There are very few things out there that people think can be helpful during this pandemic for people who have active infection. Convalescent plasma is one of the things that has actually been proposed."

"If you had documented COVID-19, you have the opportunity to save somebody else's life," said Dr. Dean Kereiakes, medical director with the Christ Hospital Research Institute. "The concept is one of taking somebody’s antibodies that they developed because they survived the infection and transferring that immunity or infection-fighting capability to somebody that is failing, someone who looks like they are losing the battle."

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the protocol Kereiakes and his team are utilizing. The effectiveness of using convalescent plasma to fight COVID-19 has not yet been proven, but the concept isn't new.

"It's been around since 1917-1918," Kereiakes said. "The H1N1, Ebola (virus) -- the two docs that got transferred back here probably lived because of this."

Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum is one of the doctors leading the University of Cincinnati's committee that is working to study plasma treatment's effectiveness.

"We don't know whether the plasma we give people will be safe in every circumstance," he told WCPO. "There is a possibility -- though unknown -- that if you gave someone plasma that they might actually get worse rather than better. It's also possible that the plasma may not help them in any way."

Health officials are identifying COVID-19 patients who could qualify for the study, but patients can only participate on a voluntary basis in clinical trials.

"The importance of having this study and being a part of a large group of institutions is (that) it gives us a lot of ability to study whether or not if, in fact, this is helpful, this is harmful in any way, or it really doesn't help at all," Fichtenbaum said.

Hoxworth staff asks anyone who has survived COVID-19 to contact them. There is also a continuing need for blood donors. Information on making an appointment to donate can be found here.