Coronavirus Outbreak: How Plasma Therapy is emerging as promising cure for COVID-19

Updated: Jun 30, 2020, 18:28 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Mumbai

With many drugs and vaccines being tested, one treatment that is being looked as a potential cure is Convalescent Plasma Therapy

This picture has been used for representational purposes
This picture has been used for representational purposes

As India battles Coronavirus with more than 5,67,000 cases, the medical and health experts have been working tirelessly to find a cure for the virus. With many drugs and vaccines being tested, one treatment that is being looked as a potential cure is Convalescent Plasma Therapy.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday inaugurated ‘Project Platina’, which is said to be the world’s largest and India’s first plasma therapy trial centre in Nagpur.

What is Convalescent Plasma Therapy?

According to a report by The Hindu, the Convalescent Plasma Therapy (CPT) involves injecting a COVID-19 patient with a convalescent sera taken from people who have recently recovered from the pandemic without ventilator support. A report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19, that has been quoted by this newspaper, said that virus-neutralising convalescent sera contains antibodies that act as a passive antibody therapy.

The plasma is extracted from a patient in two ways, through routine blood withdrawal by centrifuge technique and through an aphresis or cell separator machine. In the first method, the 180 ml to 220 ml sera can be collected in three to five sittings and stored for a year in 60 degree Celsius. In the second method, 600 ml sera can be collected at one time and stored for a year. These processes are done to extract plasma from the donor’s blood, that can be used to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

The convalescent sera can be transported to any part of the world by storing it through cold-chain process which is also used in storing vaccines. The report also mentioned that the therapy is quickly doable and does not cause any major side effects.

Apart from COVID-19, the therapy has also been used for treating other illnesses such as SARS and MERS.

Clinical trials being conducted in India

Many hospitals in India have been conducting clinical trials in various stages as per the guidelines by the Indian Council Medical Research (ICMR). According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the Union Health Ministry had earlier advised against the therapy to be used as an approved treatment for coronavirus and said that it should be used for research and trial to test its efficiency. The ministry also added that the therapy if used indiscriminately, can lead to life-threatening complications.

The report also said that as per experts’ opinions, large scale use of plasma therapy is limited by the availability of volume of plasma. The therapy also poses a challenge that the recipient has to be screened for other infections to avoid complications and also to know the stage in which the treatment is required.

Challenges

Amid reports of people who have recovered from Coronavirus not stepping forward to donate their plasma, Thackeray had assured people, while inaugurating the Project Platina, that doing so does not cause any harm. "The Donors are available in large numbers and have no weakness whatsoever after plasma donation as RBC are returned back to the patient," he tweeted.

According to another report by the Hindustan Times, out of 67,900 patients who recovered in Maharashtra, only 180 donated their plasma for the treatment. Doctors have been reportedly struggling to find donors for the therapy trials as 90 per cent of the patients refused to return to donate their plasma.

Infrastructures developed so far

With clinical trials showing a promising result, and Thackeray launching the plasma therapy trial centre in Nagpur, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has also announced the setting up of a ‘first-of-its-kind’ plasma bank in Delhi.

According to PTI, the bank will be set up at the government-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, and doctors or hospitals will have to approach it for plasma if a COVID-19 patient requires the same.

"Usually, it is difficult to save lives of those patients who are in the last stage or with comorbidities and are on ventilator support. Those patients who are in a moderate stage...this therapy is very helpful for them," he was quoted as saying in a PTI report.

(With inputs from PTI)

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