First US coronavirus patients being treated with plasma therapy

First US coronavirus patients being treated with plasma therapy
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Experimental treatment of coronavirus patients with plasma from recovered patients has begun in New York and Houston after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved such efforts.

The effectiveness of the treatment is unknown, but the FDA approved it as a treatment on March 24, giving researchers the option to request emergency authorization to test the procedure. Methodist Hospital in Houston began soliciting donors Friday, performing the first transfusions for a patient the next day.

The approach, known as convalescent plasma, echoes an approach used for both the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2002 SARS outbreak, and has shown promising early signs in the treatment of Chinese patients.

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“Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route because, unfortunately, there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care,” Eric Salazar, principal investigator in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, told USA Today.

Michael Joyner, a professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noted that experts do not expect the treatment to have a "Lazarus-like effect on the really ill," but said “what's more likely is that the slope of the patient's decline will gradually slow and that they can be weaned off of ventilation.”

At this stage, the donations are from people who have recovered after exposure to or infection with the virus about three weeks ago, which appears to be the time frame in which human bodies develop a strong immune response to the coronavirus. The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project has posted a protocol for clinical trials on its site.

Ania Wajnberg, an internist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City who is directing its Serum Antibody program, told USA Today that nearly everyone who has learned they are eligible for donation through the Plasma Project’s website has offered to help.

“That’s been a bright spot in all this, everybody wants to help. It’s nice to see,” said Wajnberg.