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Scientists look to ‘Stone Age’ blood treatment in lieu of virus vaccine

There is currently no treatment for coronavirus and vaccines are unlikely to be available until the end of the year at the earliest.


“Giving serum from newly recovered patients is a Stone Age approach, but historically it has worked,” said Dr Jeffrey Henderson, an associate professor of medicine and molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine.

“This is how we used to prevent and treat viral infections like measles, mumps, polio and influenza, but once vaccines were developed, the technique understandably fell out of favour and many people forgot about it.

“Until we have specific drugs and vaccines for COVID-19, this approach could save lives.”

During the Spanish flu pandemic many patients got better when they were given the blood serum from victims who had recovered from the illness.


More recently, plasma transfusion was used experimentally to treat small numbers of people during the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome.

SARS is caused by a coronavirus closely related to the one that causes COVID-19. In one study, SARS patients who received plasma transfusions recovered faster than those who did not.

Now Washington University in St Louis has joined forces with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to launch the trial.

They submitted their proposal to the US Food and Drug Administration on March 18 and are awaiting approval so they can get started.


“This is something that can be done very quickly, much faster than drug development, because it basically involves donating and transfusing plasma,” added Dr Henderson.

“As soon as we have individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 walking around, we have potential donors, and we can use the blood bank system to obtain plasma and distribute it to the patients who need it.

“Everyone’s excited about this. If it works, it could provide a lifeline at this early stage of the pandemic.”

The team will screen the blood of recovered patients for toxins before transfusing the plasma into the sick.

The Telegraph, London

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