Henry Ford Health System Participates in COVID-19 Plasma Program

April 28, 2020

DETROIT – Henry Ford Health System was one of the first Michigan health systems to participate in a convalescent plasma program, one of many efforts underway at the health system to treat patients suffering debilitating symptoms of COVID-19.

Fourteen patients have undergone transfusion with convalescent plasma without complications, the first at Henry Ford Hospital on April 17, the system announced today. Additional transfusions are planned.

The first collection of plasma from a formerly positive COVID-19 healthcare worker also took place April 17. Collection from additional donors is underway, focusing on previously positive heath care workers.

Convalescent plasma is the name given to the plasma of an individual that has been infected with COVID-19 and then developed protecting antibodies against that specific infection. The premise for current investigational treatments is the plasma can be used in a transfusion of a COVID-19 patient with the hope that some level of protection can be shared with the recipient.

"There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19, which is why it is imperative to use our experience and expertise at Henry Ford to search for answers,” said Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer for Henry Ford Health System. “Our compassionate care now can help form preventative barriers and effective treatments for patients in the future, so we can firmly handle this ongoing threat.”

Current FDA guidelines require those who receive convalescent plasma to, at a minimum, be COVID-19 positive and receiving oxygen. Henry Ford Health System physicians focused on patients in critical condition who could potentially benefit the most from a transfusion. All of the patients are progressively improving. But since multiple medical interventions are typically used for each patient, further evaluation of outcomes is necessary to determine specifically what proved effective, according to the health system.

"Medicine is built on scientific research: methodical analysis of what works – and what doesn’t,” said Dr. Kalkanis. “While we are cautiously optimistic that this type of treatment could be of some benefit, we won’t know until we are able to analyze data in the future.”

While science shows the use of antibodies can, in some instances, provide protection from future infection, there are no current studies available to show that the infusion of this plasma to a patient with the COVID-19 disease is beneficial. There is no previous experience to predict how the virus will behave if infused along with the protecting antibodies. Plus, testing capabilities for measuring antibody titers is currently very limited across the United States.

Henry Ford Health System is currently working with the Mayo Clinic on the current program, led at Henry Ford Hospital by the Henry Ford Health System Department of Transfusion Medicine, as well as the Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Pathology and Intensive Care Unit staff.

The researchers have been working with donors who are Henry Ford Health System employees who tested positive for COVID-19, recovered and show no signs of disease. Donors who qualify either have a negative COVID-19 test at least 15 days after their positive test or have been symptom-free for at least 28 days after testing positive.

Donors must meet regular volunteer blood donor criteria and have a donor form signed by a doctor. The plasma collection takes place at a blood center collection site and takes about one hour. Donation can be repeated at weekly intervals, and one donation can provide between one and four doses of plasma. Those who may qualify and would like to be evaluated for donation can email iPlaza@hfhs.org for more information.

The plasma donations are kept at a central blood center and are available to any hospital in Michigan with FDA- and IRB-approved plasma programs that are working with that blood center.

###

Media contact: Tammy Battaglia / Tbattag1@hfhs.org / 248-881-0809