WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Physicians at Johns Hopkins University are working to develop a safe way to use blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients that could provide possible help or immunity to COVID-19 symptoms.
The hope is the plasma transfusions could save lives as a vaccine is developed. The Baltimore-based research university is coordinating efforts with other medical centers from nearly two dozen hospitals and research centers, including the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Stanford University Medical Center in California, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
The plasma research is time-consuming work. Sleep isn’t something Dr. Shmuel Shoham has gotten much of over the past few weeks.
“It’s been busy, yeah," he told ABC7 reporter Victoria Sanchez in a Skype interview. "Been doing 18 to 22-hour days."
For two decades, Shoham has treated transplant patients with infectious diseases. For nine years, he’s worked at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He is now a part of the School of Medicine’s research team developing plasma studies for the novel coronavirus.
“This is a once in a lifetime, hopefully, catastrophic event of global public health,” he said.
The group is looking at the blood plasma of previously infected patients.
“If you have somebody that has had coronavirus and they are over the infection, they may have created antibodies that can be very effective against the virus,” he explained.
The questions researchers are looking to answer is whether the antibodies in the plasma could help others who are at high risk for getting the virus.
“If we can give it to those people, from trying to prevent the disease from happening in the first place or in people who have already had the disease, particularly if it’s early on, that’s another group that you can try to give plasma to, to see if you can try to treat the infection so that it doesn’t get worse and worse and end up in the ICU or even dying,” said Shoham.
The plan is to give plasma to close relatives of recently sick people.
“The reason we’re going to go with family members is we are looking for a group that has a substantial risk of developing infection,” said Shoham.
Human trials have not started yet. The process involves FDA approval for a randomized clinical trial that would follow COVID-19 positive patients as well as prevention of infection in other patients.
“Things that normally take a year, a year and a half to set up a study, we are doing in a matter of weeks,” said Shoham.
He calls the plasma study a stopgap solution until a viable vaccine is developed.
“I don’t think any of us are looking at this like it’s going to be the long-term solution, the answer to everything. This is to buy us some time.”