Doctors across the country, including UT Health San Antonio physicians, are hopeful that a century old idea—convalescent plasma—can now be used as an effective therapy in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

“Since there’s not a good, determined treatment for COVID-19, convalescent plasma is something that has been used for a very long time that we’ve turned to,” said Leslie Greebon, M.D., director of transfusion medicine at University Hospital and an assistant professor of pathology and medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

She is among the UT Health San Antonio faculty treating COVID-19 patients at its teaching hospital/partner, University Hospital.

“Basically, you have plasma from individuals who have been infected where those people have created antibodies, and those antibodies are protective, hopefully, of that person in the future,” Dr. Greebon said. “If you take that person who’s created those antibodies and transfuse their plasma into somebody who is acutely ill right now and who hasn’t made their own antibodies, the hope is that the antibodies will help that patient recover faster.”

Convalescent plasma has been used on Ebola, SARS, and MERS patients, as well as during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Dr. Greebon said that 11 coronavirus patients at University Hospital received convalescent plasma transfusions between April 12 and April 26. “A lot of those patients are doing fine, and most are still in the hospital,” she said. “A few have been discharged and unfortunately a small number have died. So we have mixed results.”

She said that how soon a patient receives the transfusion as well as underlying co-morbidities likely play a role in how effective the convalescent plasma is for individual patients.

Dr. Greebon added that while local data is too limited to draw any conclusions, University Hospital is one of many across the country to join a Mayo Clinic study of thousands of patients being treated with convalescent plasma.

University Hospital’s blood supplier is the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, which performs special testing and determines who is eligible to donate. A typical donation can help four to five patients. The process recently was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Greebon said a team of UT Health physicians at University Hospital is treating COVID-19 patients.

“Infectious disease specialists are making recommendations about the different trials that are available, the different treatments available, including convalescent plasma,” she said. “And then of course we have our clinical care teams that are doing the daily care of the patient and handling all of the issues that arise, such as respiratory failure and renal failure.”

While scientists and doctors aren’t sure how effective convalescent plasma will be against COVID-19, “there is hope since the physiologic and immunologic principles of this therapy are logical and it has been proven to be a useful therapy for other similar diseases,” Dr. Greebon said.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered, you may be able to help others by donating plasma. Contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center at 210-731-2719 or