Italy aims to turn suffering to advantage with experimental Covid-19 treatment. The country is pinning its hopes on using the blood plasma of Covid-19 survivors to help those who are suffering most from it in hospitals now.
“Good can come out of this,” “We had such a huge outbreak, now we have many potential donors.” said Dr. Fausto Baldanti.
People who recover from an infection, or who tested positive but never experienced symptoms, develop antibodies in their blood plasma. Those antibodies can be transfused into another victim, where they might help to neutralize the virus in the recipient’s body.
For decades, doctors have used plasma or even whole blood from recovered patents to treat the newly infected.
Baldanti is a virologist at the University of Pavia San Matteo Hospital in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, which has seen the most cases and deaths in the country. He hopes “this plasma treatment can be crucial for controlling the infection in patients admitted to intensive care units.”
Antibody tests, also known as serology tests, don’t diagnose active infection with the coronavirus. Rather, they check for proteins in the immune system — antibodies — through a blood sample.
The presence of antibodies may mean a person has at least some immunity although experts are not sure how strong the immunity may be or how long it will last.
The director general of the Italian National Blood Center hopes to have a test ready within weeks.
“We should have a serological exam (blood test) that is approved to test if someone has antibodies by the end of April. We will start selecting the first donors by the end of the month,” Giancarlo Maria Liumbruno told reporters.
“This new initiative would allow us to go through our 1,700,000 blood donors in Italy, to see who has been infected or is asymptomatic and has developed antibodies,” he said.
“Once an antibody test is approved, Italy plans to open its blood banks to donations from people with coronavirus antibodies”. Liumbruno said.
The test would allow scientists to select the most effective blood donors, San Matteo hospital virologist Baldanti explained: “So, who has the highest activity of the virus? You use that plasma to infuse into the sick patients.”
The project aims to recruit repeat voluntary plasma donors with antibodies, Liumbruno said.