In the absence of definitive treatment for COVID-19, doctors are working on repurposing drugs to manage symptoms, reduce disease severity and using plasma of the recovered COVID-19 patients to help those infected with the virus. This is not the first time plasma is being used as a therapeutic agent; previously doctors have used plasma during outbreaks of measles, mumps and Ebola. Plasma refers to the part of the blood that contains antibodies from, in this case, recovered COVID-19 patients. These antibodies can be used as treatment and reportedly even prophylaxis for COVID-19 patients.
Recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on 19th October 2020 showed that older males who were hospitalized with severe symptoms of COVID-19 can be the best candidates for donating antibody-rich plasma.
More severity of the disease, stronger antibodies in the plasma
For this study, the researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined samples of plasma collected from 126 recovered COVID-19 patients. Out of these patients, 54 percent were men and 46 percent were women with a median age of 42 years. Most of these patients presented with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 and only 10 percent of them were admitted to the hospital.
The plasma samples were collected 43 days after the patients took their first RT-PCR test.
The presence of antibodies (IgG or IgA) against the spike protein of the novel coronavirus was determined with the help of EUROIMMUN ELISA test. Spike protein is the protein present on the cell membrane of SARS-CoV-2, which allows the virus to attach and infect human cells.
The scientists then conducted various tests to determine the ability of the plasma samples to neutralize COVID-19, the infection caused by SARS-CoV-2.
Male, elderly patients had more neutralising antibodies
The results of the study showed that males with advancing age, who had to be hospitalized due to severe COVID-19, had higher levels of neutralizing antibodies and better IgG responses against SARS-CoV-2.
It was found that the patients who were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 infection had more anti-spike protein antibodies in their plasma and were able to neutralize the virus more effectively. Also, these antibodies were found in a larger quantity in males than in females.
Scientists further added that a possible explanation for this could be that due to severe disease, the inflammatory response in the body gets accelerated, recruiting more B-cells (white blood cells) to fight the infection. This consequently results in more antibody production.
The scientists concluded that severe COVID-19 infection may prompt a stronger immune response in people. Larger studies may be required to confirm these findings.
For more information, read our article on Convalescent plasma therapy.
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