UVA Health testing convalescent plasma as a potential COVID-19 treatment

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 10:36 AM EDT
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A hospital in Charlottesville is joining the network of hospitals nationwide testing whether plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients could help those battling the disease.

UVA Health announced on Monday that they're launching a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of using plasma from recovered patients as a treatment for inpatients with COVID-19.

For several weeks, the Red Cross has been

as a potential treatment option.

"Patients who have recovered from COVID-19, there's a belief that they may have antibodies in their blood that could provide some therapeutic value to patients who are recently ill battling the virus," Jonathan McNamara, the American Red Cross regional communications director, said.

At UVA Health, in their new clinical trial, inpatients at the hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be given the chance to participate in the trial and receive the treatment.

The treatment plan – known as convalescent plasma – showed some effectiveness during the SARS outbreak, and researchers believe it could do the same for another coronavirus.

“Convalescent plasma has been used with success in other serious coronavirus infections such as SARS and MERS, and even in the recent Ebola virus outbreak,” said Scott Heysell, MD, MPH, an infectious disease specialist at UVA Health and one of the lead investigators for the trial. “This option may boost the body’s own ability to coordinate an effective immune response to clearing the virus and preventing severe COVID-19 disease.”

For the trial at UVA, the plasma will be provided by the Red Cross, which

, with about 10% accepted.

Originally, the Red Cross could only take convalescent plasma from people who had actually been tested and found positive for the virus. However, because of the lack of testing, that requirement excluded thousands of people who possibly had the virus and could still donate.

Now, the Red Cross has an online application asking for even people who never got tested for COVID-19, but believe they had it, to apply online. If their application is accepted, they're eligible for a blood test that screens for COVID-19 antibodies before their donation.

At UVA Health, doctors will be calling patients who tested positive and are recovering to ask if they want to be screened by the Red Cross as a potential donor. They're also encouraging other community members who have tested positive to reach out to the Red Cross to see if they're eligible to donate.

“I am pleased that we are exploring another avenue in a search for an effective treatment against COVID-19,” said K. Craig Kent, MD, UVA’s executive vice president for health affairs. “Clinical trials like this are a valuable part of the work accomplished at academic health systems.”

UVA Health has been among the hospitals at the forefront of testing treatment options for the coronavirus, also participating in the national clinical trial for remdesivir, which has now