Canadian researchers testing convalescent plasma as treatment for COVID-19

Canadian Blood Services will be collecting convalescent plasma as part of a clinical trial for COVID-19 treatment. (Canadian Blood Services/Facebook)

A national trial is underway to determine if the blood plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients can treat the virus in those who are currently ill.

In a news release issued on Thursday, Canadian Blood Services said it’s part of a research team that’s submitted a clinical trial application to Health Canada. Once approved, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec will supply what’s called convalescent plasma to hospitals across the country.

“When you’ve recovered from an illness, your immune system has developed a set of antibody molecules that are now present in your plasma that weren’t there before,” said Canadian Blood Services Chief Scientist Dr. Dana Devine.

These antibodies remain in the blood to shield from possible future infection.

According to a news release, Canadian Blood Services will contact potential donors based on a set of criteria. Donors must also meet its general eligibility criteria. 

The release said there is a small, but growing number of people who are eligible to partake. 

“The decision about which patients will be treated will actually be made by the physicians who are taking care of those patients,” said Devine.

She said Canada isn’t the only country looking into convalescent plasma. 

Places that experienced the outbreak early on, such as China, South Korea and Singapore, are actively collecting plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. Researchers in the United States are also collecting convalescent plasma for potential COVID-19 treatment.

“Because we don’t really understand yet enough about COVID-19 to know whether convalescent plasma is going to be the right treatment or not, there are people who are taking two different kinds of approaches.”

One of them, she said, is using convalescent plasma to prevent the virus in people more vulnerable to getting sick, such as health care workers. The second approach is using the plasma as an early treatment. 

Devine said there are concerns about treating patients who are at the more severe stages of COVID-19 because “convalescent plasma, with all of these antibodies on board, could actually make the disease worse.”

“We think (convalescent plasma) is probably actually an interim measure,” said Devine. This is because scientists around the world are working on other ways of treating COVID-19, which will likely replace convalescent plasma as they develop.

The release said this clinical trial will take several months to complete.

In the meantime, Canadian Blood Services is encouraging the public to continue donating blood. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, patients undergoing surgery and cancer treatment, injury victims and those with blood disorders continue to rely on donors. 

To book an appointment visit, download the GiveBlood app or call 1-888-2-DONATE (1-888-236-6283).