A Bear woman and her boyfriend are among the first people in Delaware to participate in a potential treatment for COVID-19 that could dramatically help those fighting the virus.
The treatment collects plasma from people who have recovered from coronavirus and built up antibodies that can fight the virus. The convalescent plasma can then be given to people with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the disease.
"People who are thinking of donating, who are recovered from the virus, I think it's an extremely selfless act," said 24-year-old Aubrie Cresswell.
The Bear resident contracted the virus while studying at England's University of East London.
"It's very important," she said. "The more people who come forward, the more people you are going to help."
It's still unknown if the treatment will cure the disease that as of Thursday had killed more than 48,000 Americans, 82 of them in Delaware. But health care officials around the world are hopeful.
More than 1,600 health care institutions across this country are participating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Expanded Access Program for
Convalescent Plasma, including ChristianaCare and the Blood Bank of Delmarva.
"A key to the success of this program is recovered patients willing to donate their plasma," said Dr. Alfred Bacon, medical director of clinical trials at the ChristianaCare Medical Group and principal investigator of the study.
About 100 people have donated convalescent plasma since the Blood Bank of Delmarva began accepting the liquid portion of blood last week.
"Each donation of plasma allows us to create at least three units of plasma," said Tony Prado, a Blood Bank spokesman.
A ChristianaCare spokesman on Thursday said they had transfused 10 patients with convalescent plasma, but it was too early to know any results.
Unlike other donations, convalescent plasma donors can give more often – once a week for three weeks in a row to begin with, Prado said.
Cresswell's boyfriend, Alex Palmatier, has already donated twice and is expected to donate again next week. After that, Prado said they will evaluate when he can
Palmatier, a 25-year-old Reading, Pennsylvania, resident, was the first person to donate convalescent plasma in Delaware.
He became infected while visiting Cresswell in England last month.
Both Cresswell and Palmatier have had family and friends infected by the virus. Palmatier said family friends have even died from it.
That's why the couple felt it was important to do something.
"I actually didn't even realize the impact we were having when we were donating at first," Palmatier said. "We learned we were able to help three or four people each time we donate to give them antibodies for the people that are sick and are having trouble ... fighting back all the symptoms they're having.
"It's a great way to help them be able to recover as easy as possible."
Old treatment, new fight
The national effort to use convalescent plasma is coming under the leadership of the Mayo Clinic.
So far, the clinic has said the immediate goal of this research is to determine if convalescent plasma can improve the chance of recovery for people with the most severe disease. A second goal is to test whether convalescent plasma can help keep people who are moderately sick from getting sicker.
Such a treatment would be a boon for people at high risk, such as with underlying medical conditions, as well as family members and health care workers who have been exposed, the clinic said in a statement.
In addition, learning more about the use of convalescent plasma now will help health care workers be better prepared if a second wave of disease occurs, as has happened with past viral outbreaks.
The concept of using convalescent plasma has been used for more than a century to treat other pathogens, including polio, measles, hepatitis B, influenza and Ebola.
The first valid trial was done in 1892 with diphtheria, a serious infection of the nose and throat that can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and even death.
Initially, blood serum was produced from animals infected with diptheria, but soon whole blood or plasma recovered from human donors with specific immunity were identified as a possible source, according to Contagion, a print and digital publication that deals with infectious disease. In the 1920s, it was used to treat scarlet fever.
During the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, convalescent plasma was used as a potential therapy with mixed results, Contagion said. It has been used in a variety of viral infections, though studies have been small and inconclusive.
One success was the use of convalescent serum to treat Ebola virus.
"For COVID-19, the potential risks of receiving convalescent plasma remain unknown," the publication said. "In the case of the dengue virus, getting convalescent serum makes the patient's paradoxically worse, as it causes the virus to replicate. Other known complications include transfusion-associated reactions seen with any blood transfusion. There is also the possibility that other known or unknown pathogens could be introduced into the patients."
To learn more about Delaware's convalescent plasma efforts visit: www.delmarvablood.org