As countries across the globe fast track scientific research to come up with a vaccine or drug against the novel Coronavirus, the medical community is turning its attention to an unlikely source to beat the virus - patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
This strategy of resorting to convalescent plasma therapy is now being followed in several countries and in Indian hospitals too.
The idea behind plasma therapy is that the blood of an individual who has beaten COVID-19, might have antibodies that can help others battling the infection.
Hospitals such as Max and AIIMS in Delhi, hospitals in Mumbai, Indore. Lucknow and Kerala have received permission from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to utilise plasma therapy on an experimental basis to tackle the ongoing battle for COVID-19.
It becomes essential to understand the science behind this much touted therapy as reports about the disadvantages of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the failure of anti-viral remdesivir's preliminary tests flood news channels.
What Is Convalescent Plasma Therapy?
Convalescent Plasma Therapy is when immunoglobins and antibodies are separated from the blood of a recovered patient and are donated to another patient with severe infection. This transfusion is able to neutralise the pathogen and eventually leads to its eradication from the blood circulation.
A 2016 study by scientists from the National Institute of Italy calls this a passive immunization methodology. Passive immunization is an artificially acquired immunity used by collecting antibodies from the serum of other animals and are inserted in the bodies of the infected.
The infected develop antibodies to fight off the pathogen and these are transferred to people with severe infections who are not actively developing an immune response against the acting pathogen.
Is This A Treatment?
This therapy has been approved by the US Food Drug and Administration as an investigative tool to decipher whether the therapy could evolve as a treatment mechanism to fight against the disease.
The Indian Council of Medical Research also permitted various states to begin clinical trials and has designed a controlled study to understand the impact of the same.
In the press conference on April 28, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that plasma therapy is being experimented and there is no evidence that this can be used as a treatment.
A patient in Max Hospital in Delhi recovered after being treated with plasma from a recovered patient and has been discharged. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal requested recovered patients to donate their blood for plasma therapy.
All India Insitute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr. Randeep Guleria who was a part of the press conference held by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also announced that the hospital was conducting plasma therapy across its centres.
Mumbai's Nair Hospital is the designated blood collection centre for therapy while Indore's Sri Aurobindo Hospital and Lucknow's King George Municipal Hospital have also started with preliminary investigations.
However, these are all experimental trials and cannot be ascertained as treatment.
BOOM contacted Dr. Sandhya Koushika, one of the scientists who is a part of a group of over 400 scientists called Indian Scientists Response to COVID-19 who stated that this cannot be adjudged as a cure currently.
"Plasma therapy is a mitigation strategy where in the antibodies transferred from a recovered patient can attack the virus. These transferred antibodies last only a few weeks but buys the patient time until their own immune system can fight the virus," Dr. Koushika stated.
There is also a possibility of the transfused antibodies suppressing the infected person's natural immune response further weakening the person's health.
A recent study conducted on five critically ill COVID-19 patients suggested that there is potential for plasma therapy to be considered as a treatment but there will have to be many clinical trials.
Therapy Used Earlier
This is not the first time plasma therapy has been employed to work against fighting an epidemic outbreak.
The WHO had earlier utilised convalescent plasma therapy during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. The treatment has also been used in MERS in 2015, H1N1 in 2009, SARS in 2004 and the Spanish pandemic of 1918.
Updated On: 2020-05-01T11:43:21+05:30