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UMass Medical School and Johns Hopkins team up for COVID plasma trials

UMass Medical School in Worcester and Johns Hopkins University are teaming up on two clinical trials to find out if blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients can help to treat or even prevent the disease.

“We hope that the plasma with the high concentration of antibodies is found to be able to prevent infection from happening in the first place,” said Dr. Shmuel Shoham, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“In some ways it’s like a vaccine,” Shoham said.

That trial, which is currently recruiting participants in the Worcester area and other spots across the country, targets those who have been exposed to coronavirus, but don’t yet have symptoms, so researchers can determine if convalescent plasma can be used to prevent people from catching the disease.

The other trial is for participants with a confirmed coronavirus infection who have symptoms, but have not yet been hospitalized.

The goal of that trial is to prevent the patient from progressing to the hospital with worsening symptoms, Shoham said.

This is the first United States double-blind, randomized clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of convalescent blood plasma as an outpatient therapy.

Inpatient studies of coronavirus patients have already shown promising results, especially when administered as early as possible, Shoham said, but outpatient options for convalescent plasma treatment don’t yet exist.

Patients in the trials receive a transfusion, which takes a couple hours, and then they are followed for a 90-day period for safety and efficacy.

If the plasma treatments are shown to be effective, it could provide some much-needed peace of mind to people in knowing that if you get sick or are exposed to COVID-19, the end result does not have to be dire.

“That will give the people the confidence to open up the economy again and not to be as fearful of catching the infection,” Shoham said.

The trials are being conducted at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. Those interested in learning more can find information at covidplasmatrial.org.

“We are all hoping and praying the vaccine is available as soon as possible, but in case it’s not available, then this is something the infrastructure is already in place for,” Shoham said.

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