India explores 'plasma therapy' for COVID-19: Here's what it means
As the world grapples with the deadly outbreak of COVID-19, India is looking to use a century-old procedure to save patients - convalescent plasma therapy. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved the clinical trial of the treatment in hopes of using it as a safe and reliable way to treat critical COVID-19 patients. Here's all you need to know about it.
Ever since the novel coronavirus started spreading from the Chinese city of Wuhan, scientists have been carrying out studies to understand the contagion and come up with potential vaccines and anti-viral treatments. However, the work has not been moving fast enough to match the speed of the outbreak, which is claiming thousands of lives on a daily basis.
Now, until a vaccine or drug for the disease gets clinical approval and is ready for mass-production, caregivers and doctors are hoping to use plasma therapy as a potential solution. The method basically involves siphoning blood from those who have recovered from the disease and re-infusing it into sick patients to help them get better more quickly.
The idea behind this therapy is to use the antibodies - proteins secreted by immune cells called B lymphocytes - generated within a recovered person's body to trigger an immune response in a critically sick patient's body. These antibodies are automatically produced by the immune system and infused in blood plasma to fight off viruses, like the novel coronavirus, and protect against re-infection.
To note, plasma therapy has been around for more than a century. It was first used to treat diphtheria patients in the 1890s and later employed for treating people suffering from the Spanish flu, measles, Ebola, and chickenpox.
Though it is too early to tell how reliable plasma therapy really is against COVID-19, preliminary studies conducted on patients in China indicate it could be effective in helping critically and moderately sick patients. The controlled clinical trials approved by ICMR would hopefully help researchers determine the efficacy, speed, and safety of the procedure for treating active COVID-19 patients.
In addition to safety and efficacy, ICMR would also have to determine if this therapy is generally effective against COVID-19 or a patient would need a specific batch of blood plasma to recover quickly. This is because every individual who recovers generates a mix of antibodies that is slightly different from that of other survivors, which means varying treatments for each patient.
The official use of this treatment would now depend on how the clinical trials on select patients go. If the treatment works well without any side effects then it may be employed on a larger scale to help India fight the COVID-19 pandemic.