Over the past few years, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has surged to popularity in cosmetic and orthopedic medicine thanks to its powerful regenerative properties. Now a new type of plasma is taking center stage, at least in New York: antibody-rich plasma.
By using the blood of patients who have fully recovered from the COVID-19 infection, New York City hospitals aim to fight the disease and prevent devastating overcrowding in intensive-care units.
What is Antibody-Rich Plasma?
The terminology sounds sophisticated, but infusing patients with blood rich in antibodies is actually a century-old treatment approach. It separates red blood cells from the fraction of blood that contains concentrated stores of antibodies, then injects the antibody-rich plasma into a sick patient.
Chinese hospitals were the first to attempt this treatment with plasma taken from past COVID-19 patients. A few hospitals in New York City are now following China’s example while also looking to past strategies of the United States during the SARS and Ebola outbreaks.
Plasma treatments proved valuable during the SARS and Ebola emergencies, but U.S health experts believe only antibody-rich plasma can help battle coronavirus. Researchers hope to maximize the efficacy of treatment by specifically selecting donors with blood that exhibits the highest quantity of antibodies.
Also known as convalescent plasma, this treatment is the only one that’s also available immediately. Drugs and vaccines take months or years to develop and approve, but convalescent plasma can be drawn, screened, and infused in a matter of hours.
The First Rollout in New York City
Scientists are advocating strongly for the use of antibody-rich plasma in hospitals because they believe it offers patients and healthcare workers alike the solution they need until clinical trials identify a permanent treatment. According to these scientists, the use of convalescent plasma will reduce the number of serious infections and prevent hospitals from enduring a crushing number of incoming cases, especially in the ICU, where materials and equipment are scarce.
In response, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced on March 23 his plan to use convalescent plasma to support his state’s coronavirus response. “We think it shows promise,” he explained in a statement.
Mount Sinai and Albert Einstein College of Medicine will be the first two New York City hospitals to give this type of coronavirus-survivor plasma to current patients. Their outcomes will influence other hospitals in New York and around the country.
Implications for the Future
Beyond current patients, convalescent plasma has the potential to protect nurses, physicians, and other front-line responders at the highest risk of contracting coronavirus themselves. Since the hospital workforce can’t afford a staffing shortage during this pandemic, experts hope plasma will prevent illness as well as treat it.
The FDA has even classified convalescent plasma as an “investigational new drug,” allowing for two important elements of the process. First, coronavirus researchers are permitted to test it in clinical trials, leading to the gathering of essential data. Second, despite the fact that it’s not yet FDA-approved, doctors can utilize convalescent plasma to treat patients with serious or life-threatening coronavirus infections.
Best of all, it’s not just doctors and researchers who are eager to put convalescent plasma into action. Liise-Anne Pirofski, an infectious-disease specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says, “I get several emails a day from people who say, ‘I survived and now I want to help other people.’ All of these people are willing to put on their boots and brush their teeth, and come help us do this.”
With that type of determination, the coronavirus is about to meet its match.