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Donations Support Plasma Transfusion Program to Treat COVID-19 Patients

Thanks to generous donors, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital helped researchers at Washington University School of Medicine be among the first in the country to test whether blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors can be used to successfully treat critically ill coronavirus patients.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood that target the virus. Researchers believe that they might be able to fight COVID-19 infections by transfusing what is known as convalescent plasma—the part of blood that contains these disease-fighting antibodies—from survivors into patients who are seriously ill with the virus. The approach has been used with some success against viral illnesses such as polio, influenza and SARS, the latter of which is caused by a virus closely related to the one that causes COVID-19.

“The Foundation should be especially proud of this one—this was an urgent funding niche that leveraged special resources on short notice and I think will benefit Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Just pitch perfect philanthropic support,” says Jeffrey P. Henderson, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology and a key member of the Washington University team.

“As a result, we are the first of the academic medical centers in our founding group (Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Mayo Clinic) to do plasma therapy for COVID-19,” Dr. Henderson says.

Dr. Henderson serves on the Washington University team led by principal investigator Rachel Presti, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine. Other members include Brenda J. Grossman, MD, a professor of pathology and immunology and of medicine, and Derek E. Byers, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine.

On March 18, Johns Hopkins in collaboration with Washington University and Mayo Clinic filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow the use of plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat critically ill patients. As a result, the FDA announced that it would facilitate access to plasma for this purpose while clinical trials are underway. The plasma is being made available under so-called “compassionate use” guidelines, which allow the use of unproven therapies as last-ditch attempts to save lives.

Washington University researchers began enrolling potential donors in early April. Volunteers who have detectable antibody levels and meet other criteria to donate plasma for clinical use have been making donations at their local blood banks, coordinated by the Red Cross. Plasma donations are being given to COVID-19 patients in intensive care at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and other sites where doctors believe they could benefit from the experimental therapy.

A few tubes of blood from each donor are also being sent to research labs so investigators can analyze the immune response to the COVID-19 virus and potentially develop new tests and treatments for the disease.

To support research aimed at finding therapies to combat COVID-19, please visit foundationbarnesjewish.org/givecovid19

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