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Plasma Treatment Offers Hope to Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients

Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin Health Network Contributes to International Research to Fight Against Pandemic

Milwaukee, April 20, 2020 – COVID-19 patients in the region are being treated within the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) health network with convalescent plasma treatment. The first healthcare system in the Southeastern Wisconsin to use this therapy on a COVID-19 patient, Froedtert & MCW infused its first patient with plasma donated from individuals who have recovered from the virus on Wednesday, April 8.

There are currently four COVID-19 patients at Froedtert & MCW that have been treated with this convalescent plasma treatment. This is an active team effort which includes many partners. While MCW is taking the lead on researching the effectiveness of this novel treatment and Froedtert Hospital is managing and administering the care of the patients, Versiti is actively recruiting donors of plasma. Versiti was among the first blood centers in the U.S. to begin collecting convalescent plasma.

“Based upon work with these active cases, we have great hope for this research because it offers a new treatment for the most severely affected patients, those for whom all other options are not working,” said, Mary Beth Graham, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at MCW, Medical Director of Infection Prevention & Control at Froedtert Hospital, and co-principal investigator on the study. “We also plan to infuse this plasma in COVID-19 patients in the hospital who are not as critically ill, but for whom the treatment may be able to help change the course of the disease.”

The process behind this therapy involves extracting antibodies from plasma of the blood donated from recovered COVID-19 patients. Those antibodies are then infused into patients currently battling COVID-19 to help their immune systems fight the virus. Approved by the FDA as an Emergency Investigational New Drug (EIND), this treatment allows one plasma donation to treat multiple patients, and one patient may require more than one plasma transfusion.

“Froedtert & MCW have achieved positive results in the past using convalescent plasma to battle other viruses, including Ebola and H1N1,” said Parameswaran Hari, MD, Armand J. Quick/William F. Stapp Professor of Hematology and Chief in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at MCW and a medical oncologist at the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center. “This work is critical to helping push both individuals and the region as a whole into the recovery phase of the battle against COVID-19.”

Part of the funding for this effort comes from MCW’s philanthropic arm, the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment. 

If individuals have recovered from COVID-19 and want to participate, they can call a special hotline that has been created: (866) 702-HOPE ((866) 702-4673) or visit the Versiti Convalescent Plasma Donation Program website. FDA guidelines require potential donors must have had a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19, be symptom free for at least 14 days prior to donating, and be tested again and receive a negative diagnosis.

ECMO therapy advancing understanding of virus

Froedtert & MCW is also advancing knowledge in the fight against the pandemic through its participation in the ECMOCARD (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation for 2019 novel Coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease) study, a multi-center, international, observational study of novel coronavirus patients in intensive care units.

Currently, four COVID-19 patients at Froedtert Hospital are on ECMO, a machine that pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

“Undertaking these observational studies is essential for epidemic and pandemic research preparedness,” said Kim Coubal, MBA, RN, Director of Heart & Vascular Service Line Operations at Froedtert & MCW. “This study allows a globally coordinated research response to collecting information about the novel COVID-19 infection. The ECMOCARD will provide national and global estimates of intensive care utilization and will help us better understand this disease.”

The study will be conducted at up to 90 hospital networks globally and will aim to recruit as many patients as possible. Froedtert & MCW is the only one in Wisconsin. Lucian Durham III, MD, PhD, associate professor at MCW and cardiothoracic surgeon at Froedtert & MCW, is the principal investigator.

The Froedtert ECMO team has a high level of experience in this advanced therapy and is the only adult ECMO program in the state designated as a Center on Path to Excellence in Life Support by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.

The result of this work will be a comprehensive registry on the treatment and outcomes of patients requiring a collaboration of multidisciplinary care and protocols, including ECMO, for COVID-19.

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