Coronavirus study: UCSF testing plasma transfusions on COVID-19 patients

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For the first time, doctors at UCSF have started plasma treatments for novel coronavirus patients. Doctors were able to match the blood type of a sick COVID-19 patient with the blood type of a donor who recovered from the virus.

Dr. Ashok Nambiar directs the blood banks and oversaw the procedure. Dr. Peter Chin-Hong is the doctor in charge of the study that is looking at how effective convalescent plasma is for critically sick patients with COVID-19.

Dr. Chin-Hong said it has taken a lot of teamwork, and they've had to go through a lot of steps to get this system in place.

"A big symbolic moment, because even though we're not sure yet if this will be independently beneficial, given our experience with convalescent plasma and other infectious diseases, there's a lot of biologic possibilities that it might work -- we just don't know for sure with COVID-19," Chin-Hong said.

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Dr. Chin-Hong said antibodies are like a virus stun gun.

"We know they've been successful in fighting their own infection, we can harvest those antibodies as easy as giving blood and then transfuse it into a patient who may not have had those antibodies developed yet," Chin-Hong said. "The role of the antibody is like a virus stun gun. You point it at the virus and it kind of stops in its tracks. So there's two parts, there's a virus and it's making kid viruses, and then there's the organ damage. So we hope by stunning the virus at least it's not making more so the organs can heal over time."

Plasma treatments are nothing new. "We've been using convalescent plasma since polio if you can believe it or not. We've used it in SARS, MERS. Even people in the audience may remember we used it in Hepatitis A," Chin-Hong said.

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Now, doctors at UCSF are asking adults that have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma and blood.

"We need to elicit donors from the community to come out and really enrich the system, with product so that so we can have more options of all blood types to get some of this," Chin-Hong said.

Those who have had COVID-19 and have had no symptoms for the past 28 days can donate.

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Dr. Chin-Hong said can go into any blood bank, just be ready to show some documentation that you did test positive for the virus. Blood banks will check to see if there are any antibodies. If there are none, they can still use the blood donated so it will not be a lost visit.

UCSF doctors are still studying how effective this will be for COVID-19 patients.

"It's here for a while until we have the vaccine in 12 to18 months so it really is imperative upon us to find therapies so that we can use for sick patients when they need them," Chin-Hong said.

They and other hospitals around the country are doing similar studies.

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