Canadian Blood Services calling for recovered COVID-19 patients to donate plasma in Sask.
Chief scientists says only way to know if plasma therapy works is if people donate
Saskatchewan people who have recovered from COVID-19 are being asked to donate blood plasma to help a Canadian Blood Services (CBS) trial.
The trial was announced at the end of May, but so far only six Saskatchewan people have been eligible and donated.
"Right now, we don't have any good treatment for COVID-19 and we have fellow Canadians who are very sick with this disease and a lot of people have died," Dana Devine, chief scientist at the Canadian Blood Services, said.
"So it's possible that if convalescent plasma is a good therapy that the only way we're going to get that therapy working is for people who have had the disease and are recovered from it to come forward and donate the plasma."
When a person has a virus or bacteria, their immune system creates antibody molecules to fight the pathogen.
"So for people who've had COVID-19 disease, their immune system has made antibodies that help them fight off the virus and recover," Devine said.
People who are newly sick haven't yet generated enough antibodies to fight off the virus.
"So the idea behind convalescent plasma therapy is that we want to be able to give people the antibodies from patients who've recovered and are well again to keep them from getting quite so sick with COVID-19."
Devine said the convalescent plasma therapy treatment provides what is called passive immunity — as it gives someone else a person's immune response to the virus.
She said CBS hasn't set a goal for the number of donations from Saskatchewan and instead are hoping for anyone who is able to donate to apply online. Saskatchewan has had 751 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 643 people have recovered.
Only people who have had COVID-19 and have been symptom free for 28 days are eligible to donate. People are also screened to make sure donating plasma would not harm the donor or the recipient.
"The plasma donation process is a bit different [than a blood donation]," Devine said. "Your blood comes the same way out through a needle and it goes into a machine and in the machine we spin it so that we take the plasma but we give you back your red blood cells."
"We just keep that clear liquid part of your blood," Devine said.
Devine said Canadian Blood Services isn't sure yet who the plasma donations will help the most. She said hospital trials are underway in Canada to determine if people in the ICU, newly infected patients, or children benefit the most or at all from the treatment.
"There's a little bit of hints in some early studies that people have done that are just really very descriptive, but it's not properly challenged," Devine said.
Devine said CBS is also still looking for regular blood donations from anyone eligible.