Prior knowing about plasma therapy, let’s check out plasma is. Later in the article we’ll try figuring out the process; its pros and cons, etc. Most importantly; we’ll try figuring out its effect on the current global pandemic, COVID-19.
Plasma is a light yellow fluid, carrying water, salts and enzymes. It is often a forgotten part of the blood, though it consists of 55% of the blood components; with red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets being the rest 45%. The fluid carries the blood components throughout the body.
The main role of plasma is to take nutrients hormones and proteins to the parts of the body needed; it is also used as a medium for the cells to put their waste products.
Role of Plasma on our Health
Some Health organisations across the globe call plasma as ‘The Gift of Life’.
Plasma plays a major role in our body. As stated earlier, it is 55% of our blood,. Along with salts, enzymes, and water, plasma contains antibodies, clotting factors and, the proteins and albumins, etc.
The proteins and antibodies in plasma are also used in therapies for rare chronic conditions. These include auto immune and haemophilia and now its used in the treatment of COVID-19.
If a person wishes to donate plasma for the sake of helping others, the persons needs to go through a screening process.
This is done to make sure the donor’s blood is safe and healthy. Hence the process is a bit time consuming like an hour and a half.
During the blood donation process, the blood drawn from the donor’s body is passed through a special machine for separating plasma and other blood particles like the RBCs, the WBCs, etc. This process is known as plasmapheresis. The remaining blood particles along with little saline are then returned to the body.
People with blood type AB are in the greatest demand for plasma donation, as their plasma is universal.
Plasma Therapy for COVID-19
As COVID-19 continues to wreck havoc across the globe, scientists are racing for the novel coronavirus antidote, which started infecting lives in later 2019. Scientists and researchers are exploring new methods to fight the pandemic with various medical treatments.
After China and the US, India has given a go for the convalescent plasma therapy as a method for treatment of COVID-19 patients. The process has also been used earlier to fight various pandemics like the SARS, MERS, Ebola, etc.
Convalescent Plasma Therapy
The convalescent plasma therapy aims at using antibodies from the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient to treat the one who is critically affected. It is also used to immunise those who are at high risk of contracting the virus such as the health workers, the families of patients, etc.
The therapy upholds a simple concept. The blood of a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 has antibodies with specific abilities to fight the novel coronavirus. Therefore, on injecting the antibodies of a recovered patient to a suffering patient will help the patient to recover soon. The convalescent plasma therapy is a kind of passive immunisation, according to researches; it is a preventive measure but not a treatment.
Procedure of Convalescent Plasma Therapy
The convalescent plasma therapy uses antibodies developed within an infected person while he/she is infected with the novel coronavirus.
These antibodies are developed in a patient as part of the body’s natural immune response to a foreign pathogen or in this case, the novel coronavirus. These antibodies are highly specific to the invading pathogen and so, work to eliminate the novel coronavirus from the patient’s body.
Once the patient has recovered, they donate their blood so that their antibodies can be used to treat other patients. The donated blood is then checked for the presence of any other disease-causing agents such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV etc.
If deemed safe, the blood is then taken through a process to extract ‘plasma’, the liquid part of the blood that contains antibodies. The antibody-rich plasma, once extracted, is then ingested into the body of a patient under treatment.
Risks of Convalescent Plasma Therapy
Although the convalescent plasma therapy has a lot of benefits, it involves some sort of risks.
- Transfer of blood substances: As the blood transfusion takes place, there are risks that an inadvertent infection might get transferred to the patient.
- Enhancement of infection: The therapy might fail for some patients and can result in an enhanced form of the infection.
- Effect on immune system:The antibody administration may end up suppressing the body’s natural immune response, leaving a Covid-19 patient vulnerable to subsequent re-infection.
Its Past Uses
This is not the first time convalescent plasma therapy is being considered as a treatment for viral infections.
- In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended the use of convalescent plasma therapy to treat patients with the antibody-rich plasma of those who had recovered from the Ebola virus disease.
- For the treatment of people infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which is also caused by a coronavirus, a protocol for use of convalescent plasma was established in 2015.
- During the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus (Spanish flu)pandemic, the therapy was used experimentally.
- The plasma therapy was used as a treatment during the H1N1 infection of 2009.
Others serious outbreaks that have seen the use of this therapy are the SARS outbreak, Measles, HIV, polio and mumps.
Delhi COVID-19 Patient Case Study
A 49 year old man in Delhi was admitted to Delhi’s Max Life hospital on April 4, 2020, with critical symptoms of acute breathing problems. He was the first man in India to be treated with plasma therapy for COVID-19 case, when his family requested the hospital for doing so.
The family came forward to arrange a donor for extracting plasma. The donor had recovered from the infection (confirmed by two consecutive negative reports) three weeks ago and again tested Covid-19 negative at the time of donation along with other standard tests to rule out infections like Hep B, Hep C and HIV.
The critically ill patient was administered fresh plasma as a treatment modality as a side-line to the standard treatment protocols on the night of April 14.
After receiving the treatment, the patient showed progressive improvement and by the fourth day, he was weaned off ventilator support on the morning of April 18 and continued on supplementary oxygen thereafter.
Speaking on the success of the first case administered under plasma therapy at the hospital, Sandeep Budhiraja, Group Medical Director, Max Healthcare, and Senior Director, Institute of Internal Medicine, said the case opened a new treatment opportunity during these challenging times.