The Welsh Blood Service is calling on males that have tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered from the virus to help the NHS potentially save lives by donating their plasma.
Two major UK clinical trials, RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP, are currently exploring if antibody-rich plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients could be used to treat patients battling the virus.
Plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can contain antibodies that were produced when the patient’s immune system was fighting the virus. The clinical trials are exploring the impact of transfusing this plasma into hospital patients that are most unwell with Covid-19.
The Welsh Blood Service has been collecting plasma from blood donations since May. Plasma collection is now also possible in Wales using a specialist plasmapheresis process, which circulates the blood back to the donors after removing the plasma.
Alan Prosser, director of the Welsh Blood Service said: “By donating their plasma, patients in Wales have an opportunity to contribute to research that could help find a treatment for Covid-19.
“We are excited to now be collecting plasma through plasmapheresis as it will enable us to accept more donations from every individual who gives through this method. Our objective at the moment is to collect as much as we can to give the researchers all they need to take forward this hugely important work.
“We are only able to accept donors who have received an invitation letter or SMS from Public Health Wales but we would ask anyone who receives an invitation to get in touch with us to find out how they could join the fight against Covid-19.”
To support the trials, every male aged 17-70* who tests positive for Covid-19 in Wales receives an invitation to donate their plasma. In Wales, plasma donations are only taken from males at this time as research suggests males possess considerably higher antibody levels than females.
Donors that donate through blood donation are able to donate one unit of plasma every 12 weeks, with most donors typically able to donate one unit of convalescent plasma before their antibody levels fall beneath the required level. Donors that donate through plasmapheresis could be able to donate up to two units every two weeks, if their antibody levels permit.
Karl Jones, a local business owner from the Vale of Glamorgan became one of the first donors in Wales to donate plasma at the Welsh Blood Service’s plasmapheresis clinic in Talbot Green. He said:
“I know first-hand how important it is to donate as I had Covid-19 myself. Even though I had a severe headache, high temperature and my body ached all over – I consider myself very lucky.
“I am here today because I want to help Covid-19 patients. I was a little bit apprehensive when I arrived but the staff have been excellent at making me feel comfortable. I even had the offer of a cup of tea and a biscuit!
“After I recovered Public Health Wales reached out to ask if I’d be willing to donate my antibodies to potentially help patients who are really suffering in hospital. I just couldn’t say no.
“The process was easy and very straightforward. I booked in for a screening process in Talbot Green where they checked I was healthy enough to donate and here I am today. The donation itself was absolutely fine, within an hour I was out and ready to get on with my day.
“If you get the call, do something amazing to fight covid-19, please donate and support this lifesaving initiative.”
Plasma collection by plasmapheresis is currently possible at Llantrisant and Wrexham but the process will soon be offered from Dafen (Llanelli). Plasma collection through whole blood is available across Wales.
*Non blood donors must be aged between 17-65 to donate.
What is Plasmapheresis?
Plasma is found within the blood stream and can be collected either through a blood donation or through a process called plasmapheresis.
Plasmapheresis donations take blood from a donor and transfer it through a specialist machine which separates the plasma before safely returning the other blood components to the donor. This allows recovered COVID-19 patients to safely donate up to two units of convalescent plasma every two weeks.
What is convalescent plasma?
Convalescent plasma is plasma that is collected from patients who have recovered from (in this case) COVID-19. Plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 will contain antibodies that their immune systems have produced in fighting the virus. That plasma can be transfused to very poorly patients whose own immune systems are struggling to develop their own antibodies. The plasma transfusion is therefore intended to provide the poorly patient with antibodies from a recovered patient to help their body fight the COVID-19 virus.
Although there is some evidence of patient benefit from the use of convalescent plasma, the safety and effectiveness of convalescent plasma transfusions needs to be confirmed by a robust clinical trial.
The trials will investigate whether transfusions may improve a patient’s speed of recovery and chances of survival. Plasma can also be collected and frozen ahead of any second wave of COVID-19.
The convalescent plasma clinical trials
The trials will investigate whether plasma transfusions could improve a COVID-19 patient’s speed of recovery and chances of survival. The first donations have now been collected and the first transfusions have already taken place. The transfusions will be done through the existing REMAP-CAP trial and newly introduced RECOVERY trial being led by the University of Oxford.
In parallel to these trials, the Welsh Blood Service is rapidly building up capacity to collect plasma so that it can deliver at a large scale, if transfusions are shown to help patients.