The UK is preparing to use the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat hospital patients with the disease.
The NHS Blood and Transplant asks some people who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate blood so that they can potentially evaluate therapy in the trials.
The hope is that the antibodies they have accumulated will help clear the virus from others.
The United States has already launched a major project to study this issue, involving more than 1,500 hospitals.
When a person has Covid-19, their immune system responds by creating antibodies that attack the virus.
Over time, these accumulate and are found in the plasma, the liquid part of the blood.
The NHSBT is now approaching patients who have recovered from Covid-19 to see if plasma can be given to people currently living with the virus.
A statement from the organization said: “We envision that this will initially be used in the trials as a possible treatment for Covid-19.
“If fully approved, the trials will examine whether convalescent plasma transfusions could improve the speed of recovery and the chances of survival for a Covid-19 patient.
“All clinical trials must follow a rigorous approval process to protect patients and ensure the production of solid results. We are working closely with government and all relevant agencies to move forward in the approval process as quickly as possible. . “
What should I know about coronavirus?
Are other groups doing this?
Several groups in the UK have tried to use blood plasma.
The University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff announced this week that it wanted to test the technology.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and executive director of King’s Health Partners, which includes King’s College London and three major hospitals in London, also hopes to set up another small-scale trial.
He wants to use plasma for critically ill patients who have no other treatment options, while a larger national trial is underway.
He said: “I would be disappointed if we could not see some patients receiving this form of therapy in a few weeks. Hopefully the national NHSBT trial will start very soon.”
He said the UK had moved slowly to test the treatment.
“I think there are many aspects of this pandemic that we will look back at and say, I wonder why we didn’t go a little faster. I think that could be one of them” .
What is the situation in the rest of the world?
Around the world, trials are underway to study the use of plasma.
In just three weeks, American scientists have organized a national project and about 600 patients have been treated so far.
Professor Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic is leading the work.
He said: “The thing we learned during the first week of administration is that no major safety signs have appeared and that administration of the product does not seem to cause many unexpected side effects.
“There are anecdotal reports of improved oxygenation and other improvements for patients. These are certainly encouraging, but they need to be rigorously evaluated.”
He said the therapy was “rough and ready”.
“There are many things we do not understand about plasma. We are going to learn more about what is in plasma, the components, levels of antibodies and other factors that may be present in over the weeks. ”
“But sometimes, as a doctor, you just have to try to shoot when you have a shot.”
How has this approach helped during previous pandemics?
Exploiting the blood of recovered patients is not a new idea in medicine. It was used over 100 years ago during the Spanish flu epidemic, and more recently for Ebola and Sars.
So far, only small studies have examined its effectiveness, and much research is needed to determine its effectiveness against the coronavirus.
But in the United States, they say there is no shortage of people who want to help.
Bruce Sachais, chief medical officer of health at the New York Blood Center, said, “People have been amazing. They keep going out in droves.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of donors and we have already been able to collect more than 1,000 units. It is really comforting to see that for people who have gone through the infection, to varying degrees, their main concern is “how can I help others now?” ‘”
Scientists say plasma will not be a quick fix.
But while our options for treating coronavirus are so limited, the hope is that it might help until a vaccine is found.