Can Blood Plasma From Recovered Patients Help Treat COVID-19? UCSF Is Testing It Out

Scientists hope antibodies from the blood of recently recovered patients can help fight off COVID-19 in others.

Under the FDA's expanded access authorization, doctors at UCSF have begun treating some of their sickest COVID-19 patients with blood plasma donated from people who have recovered from the virus.

"If you know somebody recovered and was successful, they're probably going to have the good antibodies in them, which we call neutralizing antibodies," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF.

Chin-Hong says the science behind plasma infusions has been around for decades and that doctors have been using convalescent plasma, as it's called, to treat disease since the time of polio.

"We don't really know if it works in COVID-19 just because it works in other infectious diseases, but there is a lot of plausibility," Chin-Hong said.

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The five UCSF patients recently given plasma, Chin-Hong says, are on the whole "doing fine," without any adverse effects. However, clinical trials will be needed to determine if convalescent plasma infusions can effectively treat COVID-19.

UCSF plans to launch a controlled clinical study with hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.

Chin-Hong says if plasma proves effective at fighting off the virus, it could eventually be used as a preventive treatment to boost immunity in health care workers.

It is also potentially easier to produce than other treatments, he says.

"This is one of the things that I have the most excitement about. You don't need a big drug company, you don't need to spend billions. It's something that your body makes naturally," Chin-Hong said.