Back to Top Skip to main content

Understanding the potential of COVID-19 convalescent plasma

Researcher scans a unit of plasma in lab. U.S. Army Sgt. Reginald Miles labels donated liquid plasma at the Landstuhl Blood Donor Center. Researchers are studying COVID-19 convalescent plasma to harness the power of neutralizing antibodies to help patients. (Photo by Volker Ramspott)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Armed Services Blood Program

The Department of Defense has set a goal to collect more than 8,000 donated units of plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 by Sept. 30, 2020. This blood will be used to treat critically ill patients and support the development of an effective treatment against the disease.

Like a missile locking on its target, antibodies attack invaders inside the body with a singularity of purpose: search and destroy. Typically, infection-fighting white blood cells produce antibodies as an appropriate response to an invading germ. In some people whose immune systems can’t mount a sufficient attack against a virus, donated antibodies from another person’s plasma may help. Researchers believe the power of antibodies lies in their ability to bind to a virus and neutralize it, or block it from entering cells, said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. Modjarrad leads the Army’s COVID-19 vaccine development research.

But not all antibodies are created the same. “Antibodies come in different flavors, some of them are neutralizing and some of them are non-neutralizing and we don’t know exactly which individuals are developing what type of antibody,” said Shelly Krebs, chief of B Cell Biology Core at WRAIR Military HIV Research program.

COVID-19 convalescent plasma, or CCP, from a recovered patient could be a mixture of both neutralizing and non-neutralizing antibodies. In fact, people infected with COVID-19 can have varying antibody responses. Some may not have enough antibodies in their plasma to benefit another patient, which is why CCP first needs to be tested for neutralizing antibody levels before transfusing, explained Modjarrad. His lab works to understand the mechanism of COVID-19 antibodies to predict the levels required to offer a person protection from the virus.

Transfusing antibodies provides short-term immunity as the donor antibodies last several weeks to months inside the body, said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Todd Gleeson of the Navy Bloodborne Infection Management Center, located at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland. “It is likely that a person with COVID-19 who receives CCP will also still develop their own immune cells and produce antibodies to fight the virus if that person is re-exposed in the future,” said Gleeson, who leads a convalescent plasma study of patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center also at NSAB in Bethesda. But scientists just can’t confirm that yet. They hope to uncover the answer and many more as they study CCP and COVID-19 antibodies to better treat patients and develop future vaccines.

Military medical treatment facilities will soon take part in an observational study across the Department of Defense to help researchers track trends among patients with COVID-19. The data will help trace recovered patients to ask for CCP donations as the DoD seeks to build a storehouse of CCP for patients admitted to Military Health System facilities and those deployed outside the U.S., explained Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Cap, director of research at the Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. “The goal is to build a convalescent plasma capability within the DoD, both on the collection and on the treatment side,” said Cap, who helped draft a CCP protocol for the DoD.

Future research may lead to the development of highly concentrated neutralizing antibodies extracted from large quantities of convalescent plasma as a potential therapy for prevention and treatment, added Cap.

Scientists believe monoclonal antibodies—derived from a single immune cell—may also hold potential as both a treatment and preventive measure against COVID-19. Krebs and her team have engineered monoclonal antibodies in the lab by isolating the best neutralizing antibodies from CCP samples to create an army of exact replicas that target the COVID-19 virus down to the atomic level, explained Modjarrad. “We know where and how well it’s going to target, and we know the kinetics of how long it will last in the body and how long it will provide protection,” he explained, noting convalescent plasma does not provide that level of effectiveness. “CCP is not generally used for prevention but for treatment.” Monoclonal antibodies could be used for both treatment and prevention of COVID-19 because the transfused neutralizing antibodies would provide immediate immunity, he added.

Monoclonal antibodies have been in use for decades and revolutionized cancer treatment. Krebs’ lab plans to expand the research into monoclonal antibodies against COVID-19 into animal studies this summer. “Our primary goal is to come up with a treatment for people who have COVID-19,” she said.

Anyone able to donate convalescent plasma should contact the Armed Services Blood Program or go online to find a complete list of available collection centers.

You also may be interested in...

Trump Administration Releases COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Strategy

Article
9/17/2020
Soldier getting flu shot

Detailed planning is ongoing to ensure rapid distribution as soon as the FDA authorizes or approves a COVID-19 vaccine and CDC makes recommendations for who should receive initial doses.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

MHS immunization experts will answer questions about flu vaccine

Article
9/16/2020
Soldier giving another soldier a flu shot

Real-time Facebook event set for 3-4 p.m. EDT Sept. 17

Recommended Content:

Immunizations | Preventive Health | Public Health | Coronavirus

Former BAMC COVID-19 patient now CCP donor

Article
9/16/2020
Man donating blood

When someone contracts a virus, that person’s immune system creates antibodies to fight the virus.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program

New communications tool rolled out on MHS GENESIS

Article
9/15/2020
Three men, wearing masks, looking at a computer screen.

Through e-Visits, providers address questions, concerns virtually.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | MHS GENESIS

Suicide impacts us all – but there is help!

Article
9/14/2020
Man at sporting event kissing his wife and baby

September marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention | Coronavirus | September Toolkit

Wildfire smoke wreaks havoc on respiratory and immune systems

Article
9/11/2020
Picture of a military tent; an orange, smoky hue surrounds the tent and soldiers

State and country health advisory alerts on diminished air quality have been posted and shared to alert local populations.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

Thirteen years ago Ft. Knox prepared for outbreak scenarios

Article
9/10/2020
Front page of newspaper

Some of the preventive measures that surfaced from the 2007 exercise included the wearing of facial coverings, regular sanitizing of surfaces and social distancing by such means as teleworking.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health

From Ghana to Washington, Sailor provides leadership during COVID-19

Article
9/10/2020
Female soldier with mask

Acquiring supplies, in general, has been a hurdle worldwide.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Health Readiness

JHIEs give providers better access to patient information

Article
9/8/2020
Man looking at X-Ray

The joint HIE securely connects DoD, VA, U.S. Coast Guard and hundreds of other select federal and private sector partners with patient health and benefit information data.

Recommended Content:

Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) Program Office | Electronic Health Record Modernization & Interoperability | MHS GENESIS | Joint Health Information Exchange | Coronavirus

USU & JTS lead global COVID-19 Grand Rounds

Article
9/4/2020
Woman in hospital bed surrounded by military health personnel.

A Military Health System-wide virtual clinical case conference led by the Uniformed Services University (USU) and hosted by the Joint Trauma System (JTS) offers physicans best practices and lessons learned during the pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

DHA Director visits Naval Hospital Pensacola

Article
9/4/2020
Lt. Gen. Ronald Place saluting to soldiers

During his visit, Place showed his appreciation to those that have been committed to excellence.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

The Military Health System Celebrates Labor Day

Video
9/4/2020
The Military Health System Celebrates Labor Day

Labor Day pays tribute to the American workforce. This year, we pay tribute to the Military Health System Workforce.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Washington state’s COVID director visits Army Medical Center

Article
9/3/2020
Admiral Bono wearing a mask speaking to a soldier

Bono took note of Madigan’s flexibility in its COVID response.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

DoD closing in on COVID-19 convalescent plasma collection goal

Article
9/2/2020
Technician wearing a mask, looking at different blood products

How to help DoD beneficiaries fighting COVID-19

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program

USAF doctor strives to advance women leaders in military medicine

Article
9/1/2020
Photo of Dr. Yun

While the military has come a long way regarding females in the higher ranks, Yun sees more progress to come.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Women's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 19

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.