CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa ramps up coronavirus plasma donation program

UIHC testing whether antibodies from recovered patients can help those in hospital

Medical assistant Katrina Rogers opens a biohazard bag used to seal coronavirus test swab specimens April 20 at a tempor
Medical assistant Katrina Rogers opens a biohazard bag used to seal coronavirus test swab specimens April 20 at a temporary pre-procedure screening facility at the Family Medicine Clinic of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

About a month ago, University of Iowa Health Care began enlisting recovered COVID-19 patients to donate plasma as part of a clinical trial to determine if antibodies in survivors can help patients hospitalized with the disease.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — Iowa’s only academic medical center and largest health care research enterprise — joined other leading medical institutions nationally and internationally in testing the COVID-19 plasma approach, which hinges on the “neutralizing antibodies” in survivors. Although research into the treatment is preliminary, early indicators hold promise.

To participate in the UI trial, plasma donors must be recovered from COVID-19 and symptom-free for at least two weeks. They also must test negative for the virus at the time of donation. Donors who have been asymptomatic for 28 days could give without a negative test.

Recipients must be hospitalized with a COVID-19 diagnosis and must give consent to receive the donated plasma and let study teams follow their progress.

Eventually, UIHC officials said, they hope to offer antibody testing to anyone who thinks they had COVID-19 based on symptoms — even without a positive COVID-19 test.

What’s happened since

Vanesa Campoverde, 36, of Iowa City, on April 9 became the first recovered COVID-19 patient to participate in the UI plasma research by donating.

“There is no cure for this so if I could help in any way someone who is critically ill, of course I’m going to do it,” Campoverde said, according to UIHC.

As of Wednesday, 27 recovered COVID-19 patients had been approved to donate to the UIHC trial — meaning they passed criteria and screening requirements, although some might not have completed a donation yet.

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“Iowans are good,” UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said. “They’re good people, and many people have stepped forward to donate.”

To date, 21 COVID-19 patients have received plasma at UIHC, officials told The Gazette on Wednesday, when the hospital was reporting 24 current COVID-19 inpatients and 121 total to date.

To protect patient privacy, Brennan said, the hospital isn’t disclosing preliminary outcomes for plasma recipients. And not all patients are eligible for the plasma. There are some exclusionary factors — like participating in other UIHC drug-related trials for COVID-19.

Brennan said the hospital is in the process of acquiring antibody testing equipment — although it’s not yet in a position to do that testing.

“When we are, we will discuss whether we are interested in having people be tested in order to be plasma donors,” she said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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