The COVID-19 outbreak is continuing to create havoc all over the world and scientists are immensely involved to develop antidotes for the novel coronavirus, which started infecting people since late last year. Researchers and scientists are exploring several avenues to introduce the world with medical treatments that can thoroughly fight the COVID-19 disease. ‘Convalescent Plasma Therapy’ is one such treatment that is currently in focus around the globe.
Presently, India has been given a go ahead for edging protocol after China and the U.S. in order to conduct a clinical trial for convalescent plasma therapy. This therapy has been already used as an experiment in the past and as a result is turning out to be a ray of hope in this war against the novel COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Convalescent Plasma Therapy for Coronavirus and How Does it Work?
The purpose of convalescent plasma therapy is to use antibodies from the blood of a COVID-19 recovered patient in order to treat those who are severely affected by the coronavirus. In addition, this therapy can be also used to immunize or vaccinate those at a higher risk of contracting the virus, such as family members of patients, health workers, and others more susceptible.
The concept of plasma therapy for COVID-19 is simple and based on the ground that the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient contains antibodies with a definite ability to fight the novel coronavirus. The theory is that if the antibodies of recovered patients are ingested into the patients that are under treatment, they will start fighting and targeting the new coronavirus in the second patient. According to researchers, the convalescent plasma therapy is analogous to passive immunization and it is not a treatment but a preventive measure for the COVID-19 disease.
The antibodies from the donated blood of the recovered patient is checked for the presence of any other disease-causing agents such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, etc. If reckoned safe, the blood is taken through a process of extracting ‘plasma’, which is the liquid part of the blood containing antibodies. Once extracted, the highly rich antibody plasma is then ingested into the body of a patient under treatment.
According to study authored by Liise-anne Pirofski and Casadevall, an adequate amount of antibody should be administered for effective plasma exchange therapy. When ingested into a susceptible person, this antibody will reach tissues and circulate in the blood to provide protection against the virus. Depending on the composition and antibody amount, the protection conferred by the transferred antibodies (immunoglobulin) can last from weeks to months.
Potential Risks Involved with Plasma Therapy
Though there are several benefits of plasma therapy for COVID-19, there are also a few risks involved with the therapy. Some of the potential risks associated are as follows:
- Enhancement of Infection: There are slight chances that the plasma therapy might fail for a few COVID-19 patients and can result in a greater form of the infection.
- Effect on Immune System: The administration of antibodies may land up suppressing the natural response of the body, leaving a COVID-19 patient susceptible to subsequent re-infection.
- Transfer of Blood Substances: An inadvertent infection can possibly get transferred to the COVID-19 patient as the blood transfusion takes place while after ingesting plasma.
Past Consideration of Plasma Therapy
The convalescent plasma therapy has been considered several times as a treatment for viral infections.
- A protocol for using convalescent plasma was recognized in 2015 for the treatment of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) infection, which is also caused by a coronavirus.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014, had recommended to use convalescent plasma therapy for treating patients with the antibody-rich plasma of recovered patients who were infected with the Ebola virus disease.
- In 2009, plasma therapy was used to treat the H1N1 infection.
- The therapy was also used experimentally during the 1918 Spanish flu or H1N1 influenza virus pandemic.
Plasma Therapy and COVID-19
The potential of plasma therapy as treatment for COVID-19 has been already explored in China in the limited trials, where the outbreak had first emerged. Around 10 highly critical COVID-19 patients were subject to plasma therapy in one trial. In this trail, a few improvements were seen in the condition of patients.
The researchers who conducted this trial stated that there were no severe adverse effects observed and that the convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 was well tolerated. As a result, this could potentially improve the clinical outcomes through deactivating the presence of viruses in the blood or viremia in severe COVID-19 cases.
On the other hand, the researches of Shenzhen, China also conducted another trial of five critically-ill COVID-19 patients, where in it the plasma therapy showed positive results as an improvement was seen in the patient’s conditions.
The Silver Lining
A large number of conducted studies until now have sparked a silver lining. However, it’s too early to think plasma therapy for COVID-19 as an effective treatment. According to John Hopkins University guidelines, the sample sizes in the plasma exchange therapy for Covid-19 trials are too small to for definite conclusions.
As per a published report in the Mayo Clinic’s Research magazine, number of researchers across the globe have also raised the point regarding too many unknown are still there for the treatment of COVID-19 disease. Some of the questions raised are; which patients will benefit, what should be the optimal dose of antibodies, what point does the patient should be undergone treatment, and many more. The researchers believe that these are some of the things that must be addressed before reaching actual conclusions.
The whole world today is awaiting seriously for the plasma therapy to be accepted as the potential treatment for COVID-19 disease. So while the plasma therapy for coronavirus remains a silver lining, it is expected that the world will soon get to know the treatment’s efficacy once more trials and studies are conducted.
Mr. Abhishek Paliwal
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