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University of Chicago Medicine begins study of plasma treatment for COVID-19

University of Chicago Medicine is seeking people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood plasma for a clinical trial studying whether the plasma can be used to treat hospital patients with severe symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Maria Lucia Madariaga, a general thoracic and lung transplant surgeon at UChicago Medicine, said the study would involve the type of convalescent plasma therapy that has been used for diseases ranging from measles to influenza, SARS and MERS. She said the University of Chicago is well-positioned to perform the study, with its Biological Sciences Division, Blood Bank, Department of Medicine, Transplant Institute and Department of Surgery participating.

“We are really fortunate at UChicago Medicine we have all the players to get this project started and keep it running under one roof,” Madariaga said during an online news conference Monday. She said the hospital began reviewing potential donors Friday, and has scheduled several donations for this week.

The initial study, which will include 10 patients, will investigate the safety and feasibility of procedures for identifying donors, collecting plasma donations and administering transfusions, according to the study’s leaders. Additional trials would further determine its effectiveness.

"We need to get this off the ground by determining whether it’s safe and feasible," Madariaga said.

Transfusing plasma containing antibodies from recovered people to severely sick patients could give their immune system extra resources to fight off the infection, according to UChicago Medicine. After a patient recovers, the antibodies stay in their blood and can provide immunity, though it isn’t known how long a person is immune after recovery.

“We want to learn as much as we can,” said Patrick Wilson, a professor of medicine involved in the research side of the study. “With this, we hope to enhance our ability to treat this disease in the long run.”

Madariaga said limited experience in China suggested plasma therapy could be effective. In Chicago, the patients who receive the initial tests will be determined by the hospital’s COVID-19 treatment team. The hospital currently has about 120 patients with the disease.

Madariaga said UChicago Medicine is looking for potential donors whose COVID-19 was confirmed, and who are at least 28 days past symptoms.

Those interested in participating in the study and donating plasma may visit the COVID-19 convalescent plasma study website at, email or call 773-702-5526.

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