Antibodies of COVID-19 survivors could hold the key to potential treatment

Palisades Medical Center is asking recovered patients to donate blood samples

A digital scientific rendering of antibodies attacking COVID-19.
A digital scientific rendering of antibodies attacking COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the nation, researchers are searching for cures, vaccines and other treatments to prevent or kill the virus. In Hudson County, some local researchers are searching for anything to help stop the disease.

Researchers and clinical experts at Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) are examining the blood of COVID-19 survivors for a potential treatment for current COVID-19 patients.HMH operates Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, where staff has been working to save patients’ lives.

Recently, HMH was approved to begin recruiting recovered and recovering COVID-19 patients to assess their blood and test it for antibodies in response to the virus. These antibodies may help other patients who are infected with COVID-19.

Patients with promising antibodies will be asked to come back to donate an additional blood sample, according to a statement from Palisades Medical Center.

The research will scrutinize the antibodies within the serum of the surviving patients in an attempt to discover more about the disease. The findings could perhaps develop new ways to fight the virus.

If you were a COVID-19 patient, treated at Palisades Medical Center or not, and were officially diagnosed with the virus and have recovered, the hospital is looking for your help.

A race against time

Dr. Michele Donato, chief of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy at Hackensack University Medical Center John Theurer Cancer Center, is leading the potential treatment part of the work.

“It really is a race against time,” Donato said. “People are getting sick right now, and we are working night and day to save as many lives as possible.”

Convalescent plasma treatments have previously been used to fight other viral outbreaks, including those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), according to HMH.

The researchers will first seek a small blood sample from those recovered or recovering patients who volunteer for the study, with the goal of finding those who developed the highest levels of targeted antibodies in response to the virus.

Those patients with the highest level of antibodies will be asked to return to provide a larger plasma donation, which may be utilized to infuse into very sick COVID-19 patients.

Hoping to save lives

Taking part in this work will be doctors from Hackensack Meridian John Theurer Cancer Center including Donato, who are experts in stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy.

They will be joined by scientists from the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), who have developed a test to assess the presence and levels of the antibodies in the blood samples. The CDI also previously developed a diagnostic test for detecting the virus which has been used to diagnose more than a thousand patients so far in the HMH network, according to a press release.

“This is applied science in ‘real-time,’ as this pandemic continues to spread,” said David Perlin, chief scientific officer of the CDI. “Our scientists at the CDI are responding to needs, and we’re hoping to save lives.”

Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, said he was so proud of his staff’s robust and innovative response to this unprecedented global challenge.

“Our scientists have been at the forefront of the latest innovations, including developing our own test and taking part in clinical trials of antiviral drugs,” Garrett said. “Now they’re taking a leadership role in this advanced antibody work, which could prove to be a breakthrough.”

The patients sought for the studies will be between the ages of 18 and 60, and have a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19. They must also be at least 14 days without symptoms, according to the guidelines.

Potential donors can fill out an online form available online for the initial screening.

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