What is Plasma Therapy? Does it Really Work!

what is plasma therapy

Plasma therapy, herd immunity, passive immunization, and convalescent plasma therapy. Along with other COVID-19 terminologies, we hear these words more often these days. 

What is plasma therapy? Does it really work? Can a COVID-19 patient recover fully by plasma therapy? What is the procedure? As most of us have heard about plasma therapy for the first time. Questions like these arise in the heads of many of us. 

For the clarity of this picture, let me shed some light on those above questions.

What is Plasma

Plasma is our blood component, that constitutes 55% of our blood. When separated from the blood, it’s like a light yellowish fluid.

 Like other essential blood constituents, such as red blood cells (RBC) and white blood cells (WBC), plasma is also a key ingredient of our blood.

Role Of Plasma

This often forgotten part of human blood performs some core duties inside our bodies. Besides, it also has some miraculous powers to cure chronic illness. This is the reason why healthcare providers ask to donate blood plasma.

  • Plasma carries water, salt, and enzymes to the different organs throughout our body. 
  • It takes hormones, nutrients, and proteins to the parts of the body that need them. 
  • Other than enzymes, salt, and water, plasma also contains clotting 

Factor, antibodies, protein albumin, and fibrinogen.

  • Our body cells release their waste products into the plasma. The plasma then assists in detaching those waste products from our body.
  •  Along with all these important functions, plasma also carries all blood components to the rest of our body through the blood circulatory system.

What is Plasma Therapy

Foreseeing the fact that it might take approximately six months to one year to invent a vaccine to prevent us from SARS-CoV-2, the health officials are trying hard to set up a proper treatment system to fight back this pandemic.

 

For the time being, they are using newly invented drugs along with repurposed drugs or repositioning drugs. Repurposed drugs are already existing drugs that are designed to cope with other diseases.

By far, the oldest method also being tested, though, is plasma therapy or convalescent plasma.

 In this therapy, blood plasma from the people who have recovered from COVID-19 is taken and infused into the people who are suffering from this disease.

It is almost a hundred years old treatment that was first used by Emile Behring. He was awarded the first Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine for his work. He demonstrated that plasma could be used to treat diphtheria (a highly contagious disease that causes inflammation of the mucus membrane). 

The key component of plasma to fight with the diseases are antibodies. Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that are specific for previous infections a person had. For better understanding, we name them as Warriors in our immune system. These warriors bind with the invading virus in order to destroy them.

Thus, they become familiar with a virus or bacteria they have priorly encountered with. They know their method of fighting and destroying those viruses better than the warriors of the person who has got any infection for the first time.

In other words, an infected patient of SARS-CoV-2, who has also recovered from the virus, has developed antibodies against the virus in his plasma.

When the Coronavirus outbreak started spreading from Wuhan, China, it left the world at a global health threat. The healthcare officials around the globe were struggling to find some basic treatment to control this outbreak. 

 In March 2020, in the USA, a viewpoint paper was published in  The Journal Of Clinical Investigation. This paper was authored by Dr. Arturo Casadevall (an immunologist) and Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski (professor of infectious diseases).

In this paper, they both discussed the potential merits, risks, and current use of plasma therapy in the treatment of COVID-19. They further said this could only show results if healthcare practitioners use it as prevention than treatment. 

How Does it Work

The healthcare providers take plasma from the recovered patients of COVID-19 and infuse it into the patient who got infection by the virus.

The antibodies can work in three different ways in an infected COVID-19 patient;

  • Viral Neutralization: In this method, the antibodies will attach to the virus and kill it.
  • Antibody-dependent Cellular Cytotoxicity: In this way, the antibody triggers a specialized immune cell to target the virus. The cell then attacks the membrane of the virus and disintegrates it.
  • Antibody-dependent Cellular Phagocytosis: in this way the antibody triggers an immune cell and the immune cell eats the virus.

Does it Really Work

Luckily, the answer to this question is YES in many cases. Dr. Arturo Casadevall and Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski said that this method could help those who are most at risk. It could work the best among medical healthcare workers to save the front liners. 

Its feasibility only depends on the collaboration and cooperation of the individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. 

Since it’s an old method of treatment, it does not require any further research. It only needs some readily available equipment and technology.

Challenges

Though it’s an old, practiced, and tested method, it still has some challenges. In a country with literacy rates like Pakistan, the challenges could make it difficult to get desired results.

The first challenge is, obviously the coordination of the recovered patients. In faraway rural areas, the medical teams might find difficulties for cooperation as blood donation is not that common in our country.

The second challenge is the expertise of the medical teams and practitioners. Plasma therapy could only be done by specialized teams of doctors and health paramedics, who could estimate and suggest the right time for the therapy for the patients, seeing their health condition.

Clinical Trials has Begun in Pakistan

After the first successful recovery of a coronavirus patient by plasma therapy, the authorities have given permission to start clinical trials of plasma therapy on 350 COVID-19 patients.

Though the authorities did not disclose the identity and other details of the lucky survivor, the only thing we came to know about him was that he was a 53 years old patient. 

The recovery of this guy has given new hope to the entire nation. We really hope that plasma therapy brings the coronavirus graph down in Pakistan. And, may we not face the peak of this virus as the world observed in Italy and in the US.

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