Researchers and clinical experts at Hackensack Meridian Health announced Friday that they are looking into the blood of COVID-19 survivors as a potential treatment for current COVID-19 patients.
The work will scrutinize the antibodies within the serum of the surviving patients, in an attempt to discover more about the disease, and perhaps develop new ways to fight it.
“I’m so proud of our robust and innovative response to this unprecedented global challenge, from our front-line care teams to our support staff, and our exceptional researchers,” said Robert Garrett, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health in a statement. “Our scientists have been at the forefront of the latest innovations, including developing our own test and taking part in clinical trials of antiviral drugs. Now they’re taking a leadership role in this advanced antibody work, which could prove to be a breakthrough,” said Garrett.
“It really is a race against time,” said Dr. Michele Donato, chief of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, who is leading the potential treatment part of the work. “People are getting sick right now, and we are working night and day to save as many lives as possible.”
Convalescent plasma treatments have previously been used to fight other viral outbreaks, including those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which sickened thousands in 2002-2003, caused by a virus that’s a cousin to the one responsible for COVID-19.
At Hackensack Meridian Health, the researchers will first seek a small blood sample from those recovered or recovering patients who volunteer for the study, with the goal of finding those who developed the highest levels of targeted antibodies in response to the virus. Those patients with the highest level of antibodies will be asked to return to provide a larger plasma donation, which may be utilized to infuse into very sick COVID-19 patients.
Taking part in this work will be experts in stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy from Hackensack Meridian John Theurer Cancer Center including Donato, as well as scientists from Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), who developed a high-titer test to assess the presence and levels of the antibodies.
The CDI also previously developed a diagnostic test for detecting the virus that so far was used to diagnose more than a thousand patients in the Hackensack Meridian Health network.
The patients sought for the studies will be between the ages of 18 and 60, and have a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19. They must also be at least 14 days without symptoms, according to the guidelines. Potential donors can fill out an online form available here for the initial screening.