VCU Medical Center offers plasma treatment for COVID-19, asks for donations

Researchers are also finding alternatives to traditional ventilators
Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 3:14 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center is putting out the call to people who have recovered from COVID-19 to please donate your plasma to help others in their fight against the virus.

"We really need the community's help to treat our sickest patients," said Dr. Jeffrey Donowitz, VCU Medical Center.

Starting this week, VCU doctors will administer convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19. With no drug treatment for coronavirus, the century-old treatment could save lives.

"This is one of the therapeutic options that has historical precedent, has been used in other situations and shows a lot of promise," said Dr. Donowitz.

Plasma is a liquid component in blood rich with antibodies. Patients are transfused with the donor’s plasma in hopes that it will help the patient’s own immune system attack the virus and help the patient recover faster.

The plasma donor must have recovered from and tested negative for COVID-19 or have been asymptomatic for 28 days, and must otherwise be healthy.

"If we can take the immune components from folks who have already recovered, and help people who are just starting into this infection, that may be enough to save some lives," said Dr. Donowitz.

By joining VCU Medical Center’s registry, the hospital may contact registrants for blood donations, but joining the registry does not require you to donate or participate in any program. Registrants can request to be removed at any time.

Donating plasma is similar to the process of donating blood.

The American Red Cross will screen and collect plasma from potential donors.

Donor plasma goes through rigorous testing similar to all blood donations before it is administered to a patient in need.

VCU researchers are also designing a ventilator splitter. That’s a project to improve existing ventilators for use by up to four people.

"We're always looking for clinical problems and engineering solutions for those," said Peter Pidcoe, VCU Professor. "And this just happened to be one that popped up and the idea was born."

Another project underway is set to repurpose hand-pumped bag valve masks, frequently used by EMS teams and make it automated.

“We really need to have something that is ready quite quickly because when you look at building one of these traditional ventilators, it’s a long process. It’s a high tech medical-grade device,” said Dr. Benjamin Nicholson, VCU Medical Center.

The ventilator projects are pending review by the FDA. Even after the pandemic, the hope is these projects will help in any future crisis.

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