As the world searches for new tools to fight the Ebola scourge in West Africa, the use of a decades-old, largely unproven therapy—transfusing blood plasma from recovered patients—has surfaced as a potential weapon.
The European Commission announced plans last month to fund a study that would look at the efficacy of using blood plasma from Ebola survivors as a possible treatment. Recently, the World Health Organization issued guidance for health professionals on the best way to collect, store and administer whole blood and plasma transfusions to treat Ebola patients in West Africa.
“While there is no proven treatment available for Ebola virus disease, whole blood collected from patients in the convalescent phase of infection has been used as an empirical treatment with promising results in a small group of EVD cases,” according to the guidelines.
But experts say convalescent therapy would not be viable for use in the U.S. if the nation sees a sudden uptick in the number of Ebola cases. That's because there are currently only a few patients in the U.S. who could donate blood plasma, so it would be impossible to establish and store a large supply for treatment purposes, said Dr. James Landmark, director of clinical laboratory support services at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.
Performed for decades, convalescent therapy involves collecting blood from patients who have developed antibodies to a disease and transfusing their plasma into patients with the active disease. The antibodies help patients fight Ebola, giving the patient's immune system time to develop its own defenses.