EghtesadOnline: Iran’s Mustafa Science and Technology Foundation organized a panel discussion in Tehran on Thursday, in which scientists discussed the effectiveness of convalescent plasma (CP) therapy for treating Covid-19.
Official statistics have reported over 233,000 coronavirus cases and 11,106 deaths in Iran.
As coronavirus cases surge around the globe, scientists are debating possible cures for treating the disease.
Financial Tribune is only reflecting the opinions of experts without endorsing or rejecting them.
President of Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences Hassan Abolqasemi said, “Covid-19 has caught the world by surprise. For almost all diseases, there is a protocol which we abide by, but we had no protocol for Covid-19.”
Although there was no protocol for this disease, “we had to reduce the mortality rate, because this virus is perilous to vulnerable groups like the elderly, the obese and those who suffer from diabetes,” he was quoted as saying by MSTF Media.
He said the body gets automatically immunized when exposed to any virus and the immune system produces antibodies.
“If we infuse the antibody taken from the recovered patient into the body of an infected subject, the critically ill patients show signs of improvement,” he said.
Abolqasemi noted that the use of convalescent plasma therapy was successful in treating diseases like Ebola and SARS.
Prior to our achievements in using this method to treat coronavirus, “the Chinese used it in 10 case studies”, he remarked.
He then talked about the meeting in which they discussed how the private sector could help test this approach.
“So, the private sector has been of great help regarding this issue. We received 400,000 liters of plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients. This is collected at least 28 days after the patient has recovered,” he added.
Abolqasemi said the plasma was tested after ensuring that it is safe.
“So, we began to infuse it into critically ill patients in mid-March. We constantly shared our Covid-19 convalescent plasma findings with the world via internet,” he said.
“In our experiment, we transfused 500 cc plasma to 50 critically ill patients and some of them survived.”
Data collected from this study showed that the use of convalescent plasma can decrease the mortality rate by up to 20% and it can be used to prevent the worsening of patients’ condition and their admission to ICU.
Asked if CP can cure Covid-19 completely, he said, “Before using any new approach, first of all we have to make sure that it is safe. Now we are certain that CP is safe. The next step is to prove that the new treatment is efficacious. This depends on the quality of the plasma donors’ antibodies. Therefore, we are not yet certain that CP is 100% effective in curing the disease.”
Fear and Dread
Peyman Eshqi, managing director of Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization, stated that “in an atmosphere of fear and dread, people adopt a negative approach toward doing what they used to do previously”.
“So, people all over the world started to get more reluctant for donating blood after the outbreak of Covid-19. This resulted in a shortage of plasma,” he said.
“Another obstacle is that direct transfusion of the plasma of previously-pregnant women may cause allergic reactions in receivers, so they are excluded from donating plasma.”
Eshqi noted that patients with diabetes or high bold pressure might harm themselves by donating plasma.
“We asked many recovered Covid-19 patients to donate plasma. Although we have received a good quantity of plasma, we need it 10 times more than what we have now,” he said.
“So we have to ask all the Covid-19 patients worldwide to donate plasma. The receivers of CP should not be worried about the side effects.”
The IBTO chief stated that “up to the middle of May, 15,000 recovered Covid-19 patients donated plasma, from which 5,000 were proved to be completely safe.
“However, we began to use this method sooner, so we are one step ahead in Iran,” he added.
Asked if IBTO has any plans to supply plasma to other countries, the official said, “We can definitely share our experiences, but supplying plasma and blood to other countries, except in rare cases, has strict rules and limitations.”
Eshqi then mentioned his participation in a recent international conference on problems caused by Covid-19 in blood banks.
“I talked about Iran’s use of CP for confronting Covid-19 in this conference. The equipment needed for plasmapheresis is being supplied to Egypt, so that they can also use this method.”
Abdolmajid Cheragh-Ali, a faculty member of Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, was asked whether CP therapy can enter the phase of vaccination as it is believed to improve the immune system.
“Vaccine, serving as active immunization, stimulates the immune system to produce antibody. On the contrary, CP transfusion is passive immunization, because rather than being secreted inside one’s body, it is taken from someone else,” he said.
The faculty member said “500 ml of plasma are infused into each patient, from which only 2 or 3 grams are effective”.
“We aim to get the pure 2/3 grams of antibody through some pharmaceutical processing, which a goal has not been achieved yet,” he added.
According to Cheragh-Ali, the advantage of CP therapy in Covid-19 is that it is “immediately available”.
Emphasizing that donating plasma does not harm the donor, he said each person can donate plasma 100 times in a year.
“Considering the number of Covid-19 infected people worldwide, 6 to 7 million recovered patients can donate plasma. We can share the Covid-19 CP therapy experience with other Muslim countries,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Eshqi said, “IBTO cooperates with WHO in the region covered by the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office. That’s where we can convey the experiences of CP therapy. We are ready for a regional solidarity meeting regarding this issue.”
They concluded that as a way to show gratitude for regaining their health, all recovered Covid-19 patients need to donate plasma.