Michigan doctor encouraged by convalescent plasma COVID-19 treatment results

A decades' old treatment is getting all new attention amid COVID-19. The FDA is authorizing doctors to treat COVID-19 patients using blood plasma from patients who've recovered from the disease.  

Dr. Shukri David, the Chair of Cardiology at Ascension Michigan is very involved in the research and tells us he's very encouraged. 

The process starts with someone who has already recovered donating their blood.  

"What we're doing basically is taking blood from these patients, splitting it down, separating the whole blood and leaving the clear liquid part. That yellow-ish liquid part of the blood is plasma.  That plasma is rich in antibodies and depending on how much or what the level of antibodies are, that basically, those are the soldiers that fight the infection off," he said. 

He has watched his patients get better after an injection of convalescent plasma. 
"The preliminary result is that if you give the plasma early on in these patients who are having respiratory problems within the first three days, there appears to be a significant reduction in mortality," he said. 

Ascension Michigan has been part of a couple of studies looking at the effectiveness of convalescent plasma. They're studies that have been moving very quickly since the beginning of the pandemic. 

"Right now we don't have any good drugs. Remdesivir doesn't really heal the infection; it slows the reproduction of the virus down. Antibiotics and steroids obviously help, but this is actually transferring immunity. So I think the expanded use and now the emergency use authorization, which allows more of it to be given, is a good thing," he said.

Critics say the data is murky though because you don't have a so-called placebo group, patients who didn't get the plasma, to really compare outcomes. But Dr. David believes in the potential of the plasma. 

"When you've looked at thousands and thousands of patients and there's retrospective studies that you can come to a conclusion. I think this warrants the use because we don't have any other good treatments for these patients. The risk is low, the benefits seem to be there. If it were me, I would definitely request convalescent plasma if I were to come down with an illness with COVID and I had pulmonary issues," he said. "I would be the first in line to receive it."

Dr. David says he hopes people will continue to donate both blood and plasma as the research surrounding convalescent plasma continues.