UW and Bloodworks Northwest studying if plasma can help treat COVID-19

SEATTLE - As the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine continues, researchers all over the country and in our state are looking into all kinds of treatments. They're also looking into a treatment that's worked for other diseases that goes as far back as 130 years ago. The question is whether plasma donation will work this time around.

"All of us are scrambling to try and do something to make this illness better," said Dr. Rebecca Haley, medical director for Bloodworks Northwest.

Bloodworks Northwest, along with researchers at the University of Washington, are teaming up to see if plasma can help treat COVID-19.

"Plasma is the liquid part of blood that all of your cells float in. And it contains mostly water, but it contains the proteins that you make to keep your body running," said Haley.

Those proteins include antibodies that are currently in people who recovered from COVID-19. The thinking is that plasma from those who recovered will be injected into those who are sick.

"So, it's trying to supplement the immunity that the patient has not been able to form yet, with the immunity that the well person already has," said Haley.

Similar trials are taking place at different research facilities and hospitals throughout the country.

Researchers say plasma treatment has worked in the past. According to Haley, it was used during the H1N1 pandemic, and recently in China, hospital stays for patients with COVID-19 and treated with plasma were greatly reduced.

Plasma treatment dates back to the late 1800s, according to Haley.

"People who had tetanus. You know when the jaw wouldn't open up. Well, they got serum from people who had tetanus before then and it cleared up," she said.

But will it work now? Time is ticking to find out.

"The question is, how good is this, how much do you need, what levels of the antibodies are the most effective?" she said.

Researchers at UW and Bloodworks Northwest are looking for volunteers to take part in this study. They said volunteers need to be clear of symptoms for 28 days and have to be healthy enough to donate blood.

For those interested you can contact researchers at covidplasma@uw.edu or by calling (206) 520-4212.