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Research on plasma promising

Public attention in the COVID-19 pandemic emergency has focused mostly on the horrific case and death numbers and the challenges hospitals and health care workers are facing.

Additionally, people keep hoping for promising news about a possible quick cure or effective vaccine.

The issue of the nation’s blood supply has not held center stage, despite blood banks grappling with blood shortages due to canceled blood drives.

Most blood products have a shelf life of just a few days or weeks.

Not so with plasma, which can be frozen for up to a year. And, in the battle against COVID-19, plasma is being viewed increasingly as a possible critical asset.

Some promising news has emerged, but a monumental effort will be needed.

Federal and state testing abilities and resources must be geared up, first to confirm whether plasma can be a widespread, intermediate asset until development of a cure or vaccine is achieved. If so, then the challenge will be to develop a system for ensuring an adequate plasma supply.

Federal health officials are engaged in talks with the American Red Cross and blood organizations about ramping up collection of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, in hopes of building supplies of what may be a promising experimental treatment.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has asked the Red Cross and the industry group America’s Blood Centers if they are able to collect 400,000 units or more of antibody-rich convalescent plasma for treating COVID-19 patients.

America’s Blood Centers represents 46 nonprofit U.S. blood centers.

As investigators continue to study whether blood-plasma transfusions from recovered COVID-19 patients are safe and improve outcomes for severely ill patients, a report last month in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a basis for hopefulness.

Researchers reported in that publication that serious adverse events occurred in fewer than 1 percent of 20,000 patients who received the transfusions.

That hopeful result has boosted the urgency regarding discussions about building a plasma stockpile, both to address immediate needs and to store additional inventory in freezers for use as needed.

However, considering the current rate of new infections across this country, as well as unknowns about the months ahead, it is hard to imagine how much storage would be needed and possible, if plasma treatment were to be proven.

As the overall blood situation currently stands, the Journal reported, a big surge in demand for convalescent plasma would evoke serious challenges for the already hard-pressed blood banks.

Ways must be found to overcome those challenges.

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