Vanderbilt team studies whether plasma can help COVID-19 patients

Coronavirus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Can a person previously infected with COVID-19 help a patient battling the virus through their blood?

That’s a question researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are hoping to find out through a study. Dr. Todd Rice and his COVID-19 team are looking closely at the antibodies within plasma to see how the virus’ spread can be disrupted.

“It’s almost like they’ve cut in line and got their antibodies faster,” Dr. Rice said.

Dr. Rice said the key is getting to patients quickly enough in their infection to get a plasma transfusion before they develop their own antibodies, which is more challenging than he thought because plasma donations are decreasing.

“We’re almost slowing down enrollment in the trial just because we don’t have enough plasma to keep enrolling at the rate that we were,” Dr. Rice said.

Dr. Rice said it’s a complicated process because only about a quarter of donors have a high enough count of antibodies that are strong enough to fight the virus.

“Some people’s plasma just doesn’t block the virus very well and we don’t use that plasma,” Rice said.

To make things even harder, it’s a challenge to find certain blood types that match a strong plasma unit.

“Part of what we’re learning is what part of the virus does the antibody have to be against in order to block the virus,” Dr. Rice said.

Dr. Rice was hoping to have 1,000 donations for his study, which he estimates will wrap up by March. Right now he’s only had about half of that participation.

Dr. Rice said his team has been calling on strong plasma donors to see if they would come back to give multiple times. But there is only a certain number of times a person can donate before their antibodies get weaker in a sample.

One donation can provide three to four units of plasma, which can save just as many people in the study.

Dr. Rice said his research suggests antibodies are helping to fight the virus, but he’s waiting for a definitive answer that proves plasma is the reason people are getting better, faster.

COVID-19 in Tennessee

(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST )

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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