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Bioscience-Medicine

San Antonio Blood Bank Participates In National Program To Find COVID-19 Treatment

COVID-19 has no proven cure, but a possible treatment for the disease might flow through the veins of people who recently recovered. The FDA is leading an emergency program to find out if COVID-19 can be treated with antibodies found in the plasma of recovered patients. 

Elizabeth Waltman is the chief operating officer of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, one of the blood banks participating in the program. The blood bank drew plasma from a recovered donor for the first time today.

“When someone has a reaction to a virus, their body makes antibodies,” she said. “We believe those antibodies that are in the plasma can be collected from a donor and transfused into a patient, and will help the patient recover from COVID-19 much quicker.”

According to Waltman, a similar approach was used as far back as the Spanish Flu pandemic, and as recently as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

She said the COVID-19 plasma transfusions will be used in the most severe cases.

“We want to prevent people from going on ventilators, and if they're on a ventilator, we want to get them off quicker,” she said. “And we believe COVID-19 convalescent plasma will help do that.” 

Plasma is the liquid part of blood that contains proteins, clotting factors and antibodies. “Convalescent” plasma comes from a person who recently recovered, and often contains unique antibodies that can help fight the disease in people still experiencing severe symptoms. 

David Herrmann, who recovered in mid-march without developing severe symptoms, was the first donor.  

“It makes me feel good that I can help someone,” he said. “And hopefully it does.”

Each individual donation generates four to five doses of plasma. Doctors have discretion in deciding how many doses an individual patient needs. Hospitals will be able to use the plasma as soon as they get permission from the FDA. 

Plasma transfusions from recovered patients are not yet a proven treatment. Data on efficacy will be reported privately. 

People who have recovered from COVID-19 and remain asymptomatic for 28 days — or obtain a negative test after 14 days — can learn more about donating plasma by emailing COVID19@southtexasblood.org.

Dominic Anthony can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.