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As the coronavirus continues to take its toll, hospitals across the country are looking at experimental techniques that involve plasma transfusions from patients who have recovered to those who are still sick. At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, three doctors have been heading that unit since March.
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The team includes Judith Aberg, chief of infectious diseases, specializing in HIV research and care; Nicole Bouvier, a physician and researcher in infectious diseases; and Ania Wajnberg, an MD of internal medicine who oversees all of the outpatient ambulatory practices at Mount Sinai and leads antibody testing across New York and parts of New Jersey. Together, the three doctors contribute to one of the country’s first convalescent plasma programs.
“The speed that everything happened was kind of incredible, and I haven’t ever worked under those sorts of conditions where you have to do it as fast as possible and as well as possible at the same time,” Bouvier says.
Once the antibody test was ready in mid-March, Wajnberg started setting up “antibody drives” in New York’s hardest-hit communities and a link on the hospital’s website where New Yorkers could volunteer to donate plasma. Since then, more than 45,000 people have contacted them to give blood.
“We’ve identified over 15,000 potential plasma donors, and thank goodness our [number of] patients who need it at this time in New York City has gone down,” Wajnberg says. “We are continuing to look at these antibodies over time, and we are still doing this test, but the need and urgency has gone down quite a bit from where we were even just a month ago.”
So far, more than 450 patients across Mount Sinai’s seven hospitals have been treated with the plasma, and Bouvier said that they have finished analyzing a small subset of patients to see if they are responding well. “It’s not the magic bullet; it doesn’t cure everybody, and there’s probably subgroups of patients who it works better on than others that we don’t have information about quite yet,” Bouvier says. “But I would say that on the whole, patients who got plasma did get better than the patients who didn’t, and that’s nice to know.”
As she looks to the future, Aberg says the team is focusing on taking convalescent plasma and turning it into hyper-immune globulin, a concentrated, purified infusion that could help prevent COVID-19 and can be administered to those who have come in contact with the virus.
“There’s a lot of excitement coming down the pike,” Aberg says. “We will hopefully be opening vaccine studies and then some other types of antibody studies. We’re going to be busy for quite a while, but the goal is that we want to prevent this disease so that we don’t have to go through this again.”
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