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Can blood from recovered COVID-19 patients help the newly-infected?

Healthy people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection could be carrying a COVID-19 treatment in their blood. Researchers from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital will investigate, whether COVID-19 patients who have recovered from the infection, have antibodies that can be used as protection against the coronavirus. The study receives almost DKK 7 million from the Danish government's emergency funding pool for corona-related research and development.

2020.04.07 | Henriette Stevnhøj

Martin Tolstrup is researcher at Aarhus University. Photo: Tonny Foghmar

When the body is attacked by a virus, it produces antibodies in the blood to fight the disease. A new study being carried out at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital will now provide an answer to the question of whether antibodies from healthy COVID-19 patients can be used in the treatment of those who are still infected and ill. The study is being led by Associate Professor Martin Tolstrup from the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Aarhus University Hospital.

"The study involves examining the quality of the antibodies that patients who have recovered from the disease have in their body. The antibodies are formed to fight the infection, and what we need to clarify, is whether the quality of the antibodies is so good that they can be used in the treatment of other patients," explains Martin Tolstrup, who has received a fast track grant of DKK 6,840,635 from the Danish government's total pool of DKK 150 million.

The goal of the study is to extract blood plasma from the blood of healthy individuals and use it as treatment in the form of a blood transfusion. The treatment is initially intended for COVID-19 patients who are not yet critically ill but who are at risk of becoming so. 

Healthy people can be donors

"Antibodies are a very active biological form of medication, as they are derived from the body's own immune system. The study will examine the quality of the antibodies produced after the COVID-19 disease. What we hope to see is that when we give antibodies to a sick person, their body receives help to fight the infection," says Martin Tolstrup. Together with his research colleagues, he has contacted healthy patients who are a key element in the study’s feasibility.

"We've written to people who were known to be infected approximately four weeks ago, and who have now been declared healthy. This means they now have so many antibodies in their blood that we can measure this optimally," he says.

He expects the study, which is taking place at Aarhus University Hospital, will include at least two hundred previously infected people. Several recovered patients have already volunteered to be donors.

"We’ve received a very positive response and we’re very pleased to see that so many are people interested in contributing to the study," says Martin Tolstrup.

The study is divided into two stages; in stage one, the researchers purify and test the antibodies from healthy patients' blood and measure the quality of the antibodies. This is done in the research laboratory in Aarhus. In stage two, a plasma transfusion is given to hospitalised patients who are assessed to benefit from plasma derived from donated blood. This plasma transfusion stage of the project will take place at several hospital departments around Denmark.


Associate Professor, MSc Martin Tolstrup
Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Department of Infectious Diseases, Aarhus University Hospital
Email: mtol@clin.au.dk
Mobile: (+45) 2067 9741
Photo: Tonny Foghmar.

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