Coronavirus patients’ blood now worth bottling
JIRI Martinek's blood really is worth bottling.
At least, that's the hope of doctors planning trials using the plasma of people who have recovered from pandemic coronavirus to treat critically ill patients with the condition.
Mr Martinek and his wife Penny both tested positive to the new virus while in quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, anchored off Yokohama, and spent over a month in a Japanese hospital.
They were allowed to fly home to Australia in late March after recording two negative tests for the virus.
Although both recall having "a bit of a sore throat" during their time in quarantine on the ship, they had no other symptoms.
"In our case, fortunately, it was clearly very mild," Mr Martinek said.
"We are some of the lucky ones.
"If you saw us, you'd say these people are healthy."
Mrs Martinek, 58, is unable to donate blood after having cancer treatment in the past five years, but her husband, 63, a one-time regular blood donor, is keen to use his good fortune to help seriously ill patients with COVID-19 by giving plasma.
Recovered Australian COVID-19 patients are in high demand by doctors and researchers.
The QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Australian Red Cross Lifeblood are both seeking patients who have recuperated from the virus to take part in a range of research projects into potential COVID-19 treatments.
Lifeblood medical director of pathology services James Daly said the plasma collected from recovered patients, such as Mr Martinek, would initially be given to people in Australian hospitals with COVID-19 as part of treatment trials.
"The idea is that for people who have recovered from COVID-19, their immune system has formed antibodies which have helped them clear the virus," Dr Daly said.
"If we collect their plasma, which contains those antibodies, the hope is that will help people currently suffering from COVID to lessen the severity of their disease and shorten the duration."
Dr Daly said Lifeblood wanted to recruit recovered COVID-19 patients from across Australia to donate what's known as "convalescent plasma".
But they must have had a laboratory confirmed case of the virus and are required to be at least 28 days symptom free before being able to donate.
Patients with COVID-19, who are sick enough to be in hospital, will receive two infusions of convalescent plasma a day apart as part of research to test whether they recover faster than those receiving standard treatment.
Dr Daly said plasma would also be sent to pharmaceutical company CSL to manufacture into a COVID-19 immunoglobulin treatment, which should be available in the second half of the year for use in future trials.
"The immunoglobulin is a more purified, concentrated form of the antibody, essentially," he said.
"The benefits are that it's a consistent dose and a consistent concentration."
QIMR Berghofer scientists are also seeking 50 recovered COVID-19 patients to donate blood for a separate study into how the immune system fights the disease, in the hope it will lead to the development of an immunotherapy.
Researcher Corey Smith, the head of the institute's translational and human immunology group, wants to isolate and study a type of immune cell, known as T cells, in the blood of COVID-19 patients.
"We believe it's likely that in patients who are getting less sick from COVID-19, it's because
their T cells are responding well and fighting this virus," Dr Smith said.
"We will grow their T cells in the lab and screen them against the virus to see if they fight it."
The scientists hope to use the information to develop a COVID-19 immunotherapy by taking the T cells from recovered patients and "turbocharging" them in the laboratory to recognise and attack the virus.
They hope an immunotherapy could be developed in six to eight months.
To donate plasma, recovered COVID-19 patients can contact Lifeblood on 13 14 95.
To get involved in the QIMR Berghofer study, visit qimrberghofer.edu.a
Originally published as Coronavirus patients' blood now worth bottling