Doctors at Yuma Regional Medical Center are testing a possible treatment for COVID-19 called convalescent plasma, which could deliver antibodies and counteract the severity of the virus.
Dr. Abhinav Chandra and Dr. Krishna Nimmagadda, who have a background in internal medicine, are part of a team investigating the treatment and say that they’re “cautiously optimistic” about it.
“Plausible benefits of the treatment are known through small studies, studies with a small sample size. Those showed benefits, but this is still in investigation,” Chandra said. “But we knew it would be safe to test it and wanted to try it, especially if it means finding a treatment for this.”
The treatment is connected to the same idea that won the first Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1901, and since then, doctors have returned to the treatment during large outbreaks of diseases like Ebola or the Spanish flu, though it hasn’t always been successful.
It involves taking the antibodies that develop in someone’s blood plasma as they fight a virus and infusing it into someone else’s body to help fight the same virus. If it proves to be a useful treatment, people who have contracted the virus and recovered would be able to donate their blood plasma to prevent the virus from getting worse in people who have contracted it.
Chandra, Nimmagadda and their team at YRMC have tried treating 9 patients at YRMC with convalescent plasma, but they can’t speak about the results yet. Chandra and Nimmagadda said that they hope to treat more people and study the results more before announcing whether they believe it could work or not.
Chandra said the treatment is also being tested throughout the country right now. Chandra and his team at YRMC are working with help from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, which is working with hospitals throughout the state and nation. This network of hospitals is collecting information and studying the treatment together, though nowhere has it been confirmed as an effective treatment.
Chandra and Nimmagadda have a specific criteria for how they select which patients, the most important of which being that the patient has been hospitalized. The treatment is meant for patients in a severe condition like those who have been intubated. Patients also have to be 18 or older, and the rest of their criteria is meant to find them patients who they expect to respond positively to the treatment.
Chandra said that everyone is in uncharted territory with the virus. “We’ve never dealt with anything like this,” he said and added that it’s difficult to know what’s going to happen. Nimmagadda emphasized that this isn’t the only treatment that the hospital is looking into.
“There are a number of important experimental treatments and this is not the only treatment option patients have. (Intensive Care Unit) doctors are also trained in experimental drugs,” he said. “We’re exploring all potential treatments.”
Nimmigadda added that the hospital is also looking out for a chance to take part in vaccine trials as well as participants for those trials. But both Nimmigadda and Chandra warned that even though word of vaccine and treatment studies invite optimism, these are studies in unprecedented times and there’s little certainty about what they can produce and when.
As the country opens up, Chandra said, it’s important that numbers like confirmed cases stay significant and that people remain cognizant and attentive of precautions to avoid losing what progress has been made so far.