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Can we stop COVID-19 before it starts? Clinical trials in Houston studying effects of convalescent plasma

Doctors want to see if antibody-rich plasma can stop people from developing symptoms, or even prevent them from getting infected at all.

HOUSTON — Doctors have been using antibodies from COVID-19 survivors to treat those who are critically ill. Now, a clinical trial is underway in Houston to see if convalescent plasma can be used to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.

“We think this could be potentially groundbreaking therapy if successful,” said Dr. Bela Patel, with UTHealth and Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Patel said two new clinical trials began last week and are being led by Johns Hopkins University.

One trial involves treating people with mild or no symptoms as soon as they test positive. The second trial is seeing how to prevent the virus from people who are high-risk.

“What we don’t know is if we can give it to people who are either just recently exposed and may not even be positive yet, by giving them the antibodies, can we prevent the infection from setting or perhaps even decreasing it so there are no clinical symptoms?” Patel said.

People who could benefit from the preventive use of convalescent plasma are seniors, people with underlying conditions and those who have been directly exposed to the virus.

“A healthcare worker who is taking care of a patient who they didn’t realize was positive. Or it could be your spouse or your child who has come home with the disease. You didn’t know you were exposed for days, because people don’t develop symptoms until two or three days later. All of a sudden, you’re worried about yourself or a family member developing serious COVID disease,” Patel said.

In those cases, doctors want to see if antibody-rich plasma can stop people from developing symptoms. An even better outcome would be if the treatment prevents people from getting the virus at all.

“If they do still develop the disease, at least our hospitalization rate for COVID-19 substantially can drop,” Patel said.

UTHealth is the only site in Texas participating in the clinical trials. Twenty local patients will be enrolled in each study. To see if you qualify for the study, you can email pulmonary@uth.tmc.edu or call 713-500-PULM.

UTHealth and Memorial Hermann have partnered with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center to screen and collect plasma.

To qualify to donate, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be in overall good health, without any cold or flu symptoms
  • Have had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis documented by a laboratory test
  • Be fully recovered from COVID-19, with no symptoms for at least 14 days before the donation

For more details on donating convalescent plasma, visit here.

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