Hope for coronavirus sufferers as five critically ill patients are saved in the space of 12 days after being treated with former carriers’ blood
- Three of the patients have recovered and the rest are in stable condition in China
- They were treated with blood from donors who had recovered from the disease
- Doctors believed their success could ‘bring hopes to more coronavirus patients’
- Former sufferers’ blood contains antibodies that are developed to fight the virus
- China has been widely using the therapy but the UK is yet to test the treatment
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Five coronavirus patients in critical condition have tested negative in the space of 12 days after receiving treatment with recovered patients’ blood in China.
Three of them have been discharged from the hospital while the others are in stable condition, according to a report from the hospital on Friday.
A doctor leading the treatment believed these successful cases could ‘bring hopes to more coronavirus patients’.
The news comes as pressure is growing on the UK to use a promising therapy for critically ill coronavirus patients after the US approved the blood-based therapy last week.
Blood plasma from former patients contains antibodies that are purposely developed by their immune systems to fight the virus. Pictured: Vials of blood being tested for infection
Blood plasma from cured patients contains antibodies that are purposely developed by their immune systems to fight the virus.
Scientists believe the method, known as convalescent plasma, could treat the sickest patients by bolster their immune systems, using blood from recovered donors.
The Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital published a medical paper on March 27, documenting the treatment process of the five patients, aged 36 to 73.
The hospital, which has the National Clinical Research Centre for Infectious Disease, said four of them showed normal temperatures within three days after being treated with blood from five donors.
All patients, including three men and two women, tested negative after 12-day treatment and the antibodies in their immune systems ‘significantly boosted’, said the hospital.
Scientists believe the method, known as convalescent plasma, could treat the sickest patients by transferring recovered donors’ blood to bolster their immune systems. A cured coronavirus patient has his condition checked at an outpatient department at a Guangdong hospital
All patients, including three men and two women, tested negative after 12-day treatment and the antibodies in their immune systems ‘significantly boosted’, said the hospital. A recovered COVID-19 patient donates his blood plasma in Wuhan of central China’s Hubei Province
‘We first started using recovered patients’ blood plasma to treat our critically ill patients on January 30,’ Liu Yingxia, deputy director of the hospital, told Pear Video.
‘We hope sharing our research could provide first-hand clinical experience for international medical workers and bring hopes to more coronavirus patients.’
Hospitals around China have been widely using the blood-based method to treat their patients – but the UK has still yet to even test the treatment.
Leading British scientists say the therapy could ‘make a life or death difference’ for patients in the most critical states and that doctors should ‘definitely’ try it.
The method may be the best hope for COVID-19 patients while scientists work to develop new, specific treatments for the disease.
And researchers say it could work as a temporary shield for the most vulnerable by protecting them if they catch the virus, almost like a vaccine.
Dr.Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program, said using convalescent plasma was a ‘very valid’ approach.
He said: ‘It must be given at the right time because it mops up the virus in the system, and it just gives the new patient’s immune system a vital push at the time it needs it. But it has to be carefully timed and it’s not always successful.’
Leading scientists have now called for the ‘promising’ treatment to be used in the UK, where over 22,000 people have been infected and 1,408 have died.
Researchers around the world are scrambling to find a cure for the killer virus, with dozens of drugs being tested.
Earlier this month, China launched its first clinical trial for coronavirus vaccine developed by the country’s top military bio-warfare expert and her team.
‘Vaccine is the strongest scientific weapon to end the coronavirus,’ the bio-warfare expert, Chen Wei, told state broadcaster CCTV.
The research team also prepared for large-scale production of the vaccine, Chen added.
More than 785,000 people around the world have now caught the coronavirus, with 37,703 patients known to have died since the outbreak began in December.
WHAT IS CONVALESCENT PLASMA AND WHERE HAS IT BEEN USED?
Convalescent plasma is a type of therapy has been used to treat infections for at least a century.
Use of convalescent plasma has been studied in outbreaks of respiratory infections, including the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, 2003 SARS epidemic, and the 2012 MERS epidemic.
Convalescent plasma was used as a last resort to improve the survival rate of patients with SARS whose condition continued to deteriorate despite treatment.
Convalescent plasma has been proven ‘effective and life-saving’ against other infectious diseases, including rabies and diphtheria, said Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program, according to Reuters.
‘It is a very important area to pursue,’ Dr Ryan said.
Although promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied, the FDA say.
Is it already being used for COVID-19 patients?
Before it can be routinely given to patients with COVID-19, it is important to determine whether it is safe and effective through clinical trials.
The FDA yesterday said it was ‘facilitating access’ for the treatment to be used on patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections’.
It came after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo the day before said that plasma would be tested there to treat the sickest of the state’s coronavirus patients.
The UK has not started trialling it on patients.
COVID-19 patients in Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai are being treated with this method, authorities report.
Lu Hongzhou, professor and co-director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, said in February the hospital had set up a special clinic to administer plasma therapy and was selecting patients who were willing to donate.
‘We are positive that this method can be very effective in our patients,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the head of a Wuhan hospital had said plasma infusions from recovered patients had shown some encouraging preliminary results.
How does it work?
Blood banks take plasma donations much like they take donations of whole blood; regular plasma is used in hospitals and emergency rooms every day.
If someone’s donating only plasma, their blood is drawn through a tube, the plasma is separated and the rest infused back into the donor´s body.
Then that plasma is tested and purified to be sure it doesn’t harbor any blood-borne viruses and is safe to use.
For COVID-19 research, people who have recovered from the coronavirus would be donating.
Scientists would measure how many antibodies are in a unit of donated plasma – tests just now being developed that aren’t available to the general public – as they figure out what’s a good dose, and how often a survivor could donate.
There is also the possibility that asymptomatic patients – those who never showed symptoms or became unwell – would be able to donate. But these ‘silent carriers’ would need to be found via testing first.
Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda is working on a drug that contains recovered patients antibodies in a pill form, Stat News reported.
Could it work as a vaccine?
While scientists race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, blood plasma therapy could provide temporary protection for the most vulnerable in a similar fashion.
A vaccine trains people´s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ. The plasma infusion approach would give people a temporary shot of someone else´s antibodies that are short-lived and require repeated doses.
If US regulator the FDA agrees, a second study would give antibody-rich plasma infusions to certain people at high risk from repeated exposures to COVID-19, such as hospital workers or first responders, said Dr Liise-anne Pirofski of New York’s Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
That also might include nursing homes when a resident becomes ill, in hopes of giving the other people in the home some protection, she said.
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