Biotechnology, Covid-19

Is convalescent plasma therapy being a new cure for COVID-19?

Student Contributors: Aman Dafadar & Rani Kumari (B.Sc. Biotechnology 3rd Year)

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease affecting more than 24 lacs individuals worldwide. The disease is mainly caused by a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The disease is highly infectious and reportedly infects older people with a higher frequency. The virus mainly spread through respiratory droplets, produced during sneezing or coughing by an infected individual. It is one of the new types of coronavirus, which is only a few months old. So, we know very little about this particular virus. But unfortunately, this virus already claimed more than 1.7 lacs lives worldwide. From the very first day of this viral infection, it has been opened out like a turmoil that is being very challenging to control. The medical professionals and scientists are giving the best of themselves to put this to an end. As the emerging cases are rising robustly throughout the world, researchers and doctors are considering convalescent plasma as one of the best approaches to treat COVID-19 patients at present. Moreover, convalescent plasma has been a promising strategy for many infectious diseases in the past including the 1918-Spanish flu pandemic, Ebola, 2003-SARS, 2009-10- influenza virus pandemic,2012 MERS-CoV epidemic, and many other diseases. Now the first question which comes to our mind is

What is convalescent plasma therapy?

Convalescent plasma is also known as the convalescent serum is the serum collected from a patient who has recovered an infectious disease and contains an antibody against that disease. Antibodies are certain molecules, produced by our system when we encounter certain pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, etc. Convalescent plasma is being used since the 1880s to treat many viral and bacterial infections. In this therapy antibodies from the blood plasma of the recovered patient are transfused into a sick patient suffering from the same disease.

So from the above-mentioned text, we have an idea of Convalescent plasma therapy, but then the second question should be how this particular line of therapy could be useful to control this current pandemic and how does this particular therapy work?

How does it work?

Individuals recovering from COVID-19 have neutralizing antibodies against the virus and injecting these antibodies into a patient suffering from the disease will boost the immune response and can lower the period of symptoms and severity of the disease.

Blood (about 600-800 ml) is extracted from the donor (i.e. recovered patient) and is screened for any possible pathogen if it is devoid of any other potential pathogen, then the plasma portion is separated from the blood through a very small instrument, and is eventually transfused to the patient suffering from COVID-19.

But, to be a donor, a person needs to qualify a few standards. They have to be tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered fully having no symptoms for 14 days and also the donor and patient should be of compatible blood types. Moreover, it has been interesting to note that a single donor produces enough plasma to treat two to three patients.

Though China has been claiming to get positive results of convalescent plasma treatments on the patients of COVID-19, the treatment is still considered under clinical trials and there are no specific results on the betterment of treated patients as well as no routine protocols on what amount of convalescent plasma and how often it can and should be used. According to some researchers, this technique is rather a preventive measure and not the actual treatment. But since we do not have any other therapeutic way to prevent this deadly pathogen, convalescent plasma therapy could be one of the treatment procedures to at least save a few lives.

Why plasma?

Plasma is the largest component of blood suspended with RBCs, WBCs, and Platelets. Plasma is about 92% water, salt, and enzymes, human plasma also contains important components such as immunoglobulin, albumin, and fibrinogen. Plasma mainly transports protein, hormones, and nutrients to the cells in our body. The plasma is rich in blood components like antibodies and protein it is used in therapies like Convalescent plasma, PRP(Platelet Rich Plasma), Plasmapheresis, Fresh Frozen Plasma.

After China and the USA, many states of India have also started the clinical trials of treating COVID-19 by convalescent plasma, and due to the past success rates of this therapy, it has opened a window of hope for the world in this crucial scenario.

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