UConn Health to Use Blood From Recovered Patients to Fight COVID-19

A woman with a surgical mask is prepared to donate blood.
UConn Health employees are volunteering to donate blood for an effort to help those suffering from COVID-19 (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

UConn Health is launching a program that uses convalescent plasma from employees who have recovered from COVID-19 to administer to patients suffering from the illness in hopes of helping their bodies fight the disease.

Under a protocol developed by the Mayo Clinic, the lead institution providing coordinated access to investigational convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients, UConn Health will investigate the use of the plasma for those with severe or life-threatening COVID-19, or those at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease.  What this means in simple terms is that people who volunteer to participate in the study will be asked to donate blood, which contains the plasma.

That blood will be tested for the level of virus-resistant antibodies and other factors. Test results will be given to the individual donors and, if the blood is suitable, the plasma component which contains the antibodies will be used to treat patients who are suffering from COVID-19 disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus. The donor must have had a positive test for COVID-19, be asymptomatic for 14 days, and have a subsequent negative test for COVID-19. The patient is then transfused with the donor’s plasma, which contains the antibodies that could potentially attack the virus and may help patients recover more rapidly. Each donation can potentially be used for several patients. The hope is that the study will add to the existing, limited data on the beneficial effects of the use of plasma from recovered patients in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“The use of convalescent plasma is not at all new to medicine, and can be traced back to the 20th century,”  says Mauricio Montezuma, site Principal Investigator for UConn Health. “It refers to the use of plasma from someone who has suffered and recovered an infection, and its posterior infusion to a patient who is with the same disease. Data on convalescent plasma in COVID-19 is limited; however, two small reports from China are promising.”

Currently, several employees are already going through the process at UConn Health. This involves donating their plasma through the American Red Cross, which has the technology and license to process the plasma. UConn Health is working to continue identifying employees who could potentially participate. If you are a UConn employee recently diagnosed with COVID-19, have recovered, and are willing to donate plasma, please call the UConn Health COVID-19 Call Center (860-679-3199, option 1) to register your willingness to donate, and to ask any questions about the process.  The call center’s hours of operation are Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm.

We decided that health care employees deserve to have the first opportunity to participate in this program, and that once this multistep process is clearly working smoothly, we would extend the request to the public,” says Dr. Lisa Chirch, an infectious diseases specialist at UConn Health.  “We are all aware of how hard-hit the health care community has been by this pandemic, including UConn Health employees.  The fact that so many who have been ill and recovered have stepped up to donate is a testament to their resilience and dedication.” 

The willingness of employees to step forward and offer help in this manner is characteristic of the selflessness that has characterized the UConn Health response to the pandemic, according to Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, CEO of UConn Health and EVP of Health Affairs.

“I am so proud of the generosity and altruism of our employees who have recovered from COVID-19 and are now volunteering to be plasma donors to help our own patients,” he says.