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University Of Chicago Medicine Conducting Breakthrough Study On Blood Plasma Treatment For COVID-19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A possible breakthrough treatment for the novel coronavirus is being tested in Chicago.

Doctors at University of Chicago Medicine are using blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat those who are seriously ill with the disease.

Assistant Professor of Surgery Dr. Maria Lucia Madariaga joined CBS 2's Brad Edwards and Irika Sargent via Skype on Monday to explain how it works.

"So basically, convalescent plasma relies on the principle of passive immunity. Essentially, we'll be taking plasma – which is the liquid part of your blood – from a patient who has recovered from the disease, and transfuse it into patients who are currently sick in the hospital, in the hopes of transferring antivirus antibodies to fight COVID-19," Madariaga said.

The study involves several different units and professors at the U of C, particularly Dr. Patrick Wilson – whose research is focused on B cell biology and the specificity of expressed antibody molecules. Also involved are the blood bank, the Transplant Institute, the Department of Medicine, and the Department of Surgery, Madariaga said.

The goal, she said, is to "understand how convalescent plasma works, how we can best treat patients, and which proteins are the best target for a vaccine."

Convalescent plasma treatment is far from new. Madariaga explained that in the 20th century, it was used to prevent schoolchildren from getting measles.

It has also been used to treat patients with influenza, and with SARS and MERS – two respiratory diseases that were also caused by coronaviruses.

"Currently, early reports from China suggest that plasma therapy is helpful and safe" for COVID-19 patients, Madariaga said.

Right now, plasma donors are needed, Madariaga said. Donors must be 18 or older and must have had a positive COVID-19 test in the past – and no longer have symptoms.

Patients who receive the plasma will be those who have severe or life-threatening COVID-19.

"The reports that we have right now from around the world, in centers who are using this form of therapy, show that improvements occur in patients. But it's too early to say what the exact time course is going to be," Madariaga said.

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