Plasmabot will help recovered coronavirus patients donate plasma

Microsoft set to launch ‘plasmabot’ to encourage patients who have recovered from coronavirus to donate their plasma for a potential life-saving treatment

  • Microsoft has teamed up with plasma companies to help fight the coronavirus
  • The firms developed a chatbot that asks recovered patients questions
  • The questions then determine if the person is a plasma donor
  • Blood plasma may contain antibodies from immune system response
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Microsoft is helping survivors of the coronavirus become heroes by determining if their plasma could be used in life-saving treatments for the disease.

The tech giant partnered with leading plasma companies in the development of a chatbot that calculates whether or not the person is a candidate by asking a series of questions.

Called ‘CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot,’ the technology also provides information about donating plasma, along with donation sites in their area. 

Blood plasma from recovered patients may contain antibodies from immune system response, which has led experts to believe it holds the key to fighting this pandemic. 

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Microsoft partnered with leading plasma companies in the development of a chatbot that calculates whether or not the person is a candidate to donate their plasma by asking a series of questions.

Plasma, a key component of blood, is already saving lives in a multitude of ways; from warding off tetanus infection if you stand on a rusty nail to preventing organ failure in victims of car crashes.

It also helps remove waste products from the body and contains electrolytes — dissolved salts which help regulate the body’s chemistry and allow our muscles to work properly.

Plasma also contains thousands of vital proteins including albumin, fibrinogen and antibodies.

And it is the antibodies found in the plasma that could to the key to fighting the outbreak.

The technology also provides information about donating plasma, along with donation sites in their area. Pictured is a man in Wuhan, China donating blood so plasma can be extracted to treat others with the virus

Along with using plasma to make therapies, experts believe this effort could lead to a new type of treatment known as polyclonal hyperimmune globulin or H-Ig This therapy pulls multiple plasma donations together and concentrates antibodies to reliable levels

‘The use of convalescent plasma is a technique dating back to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and was effective more recently during the SARS outbreak, Microsoft said in a blog post.

‘Today, there is mounting clinical evidence that plasma collected from those who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat ill COVID-19 patients.’

The self-screening tool will not only help those who have recovered determine if they are a donor, but will also provide them with locations for them to donate.

The tech giant explains that more than 50 percent of eligible donors in the US live just 15 miles within one of the 500 centers operated by the by CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance member companies.

Along with using plasma to make therapies, experts believe this effort could lead to a new type of treatment known as polyclonal hyperimmune globulin or H-Ig

This therapy pulls multiple plasma donations together and concentrates antibodies to reliable levels allowing the medicine to be delivered in lower volumes and minimizing the time it takes to administer it to patients.

The H-Ig also lowers the risk of the virus passing from donor to patient.

Microsoft explains that it has a longer shelf life, allowing healthcare specialists to store large quantities for future outbreaks.

‘At Microsoft, we conducted a careful (but rapid) assessment, including consultation not only with our own experts but also several external partners,’ leaders of Microsoft’s Plasma Bot team said today in a blog post about the project. 

‘This assessment involved gaining an understanding of the underlying science and potential medical benefits. 

‘We are now convinced that the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance has a real chance to save lives, at significant scale, and possibly much sooner than other approaches currently being developed.’

More than 70,000 Americans have recovered from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, and Microsoft and its team of experts hopes the new chatbot will encourage these individuals to donate their plasma.

More than 70,000 Americans have recovered from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, which could help the more than 800,000 people currently infected in the US

Donors would go through a screening process to determine if they are eligible to participate in the Plasma Alliance project. 

And the entire donation process takes less than an hour from start to finish.

It returns the donor’s blood cells to the bloodstream, taking out only the water plus the proteins that will be used for developing a potential therapy.

The Plasma Alliance says clinical trials of an H-Ig therapy could begin as early as June.

 ‘If the work of the Alliance is successful, the potential treatment could be available this year,’ the project’s partners say.

WHAT IS CONVALESCENT PLASMA AND WHERE HAS IT BEEN USED?

Convalescent plasma has been used to treat infections for at least a century, dating back to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  

It was also trialed during the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, 2003 SARS epidemic, and the 2012 MERS epidemic. 

Convalescent plasma was used as a last resort to improve the survival rate of patients with SARS whose condition continued to deteriorate.

It has been proven ‘effective and life-saving’ against other infections, such as rabies and diphtheria, said Dr Mike Ryan, of the World Health Organization.

‘It is a very important area to pursue,’ Dr Ryan said.

Although promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied, the FDA say.

Is it already being used for COVID-19 patients?

Before it can be routinely given to patients with COVID-19, it is important to determine whether it is safe and effective through clinical trials.

The FDA said it was ‘facilitating access’ for the treatment to be used on patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections’.

It came after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that plasma would be tested there to treat the sickest of the state’s coronavirus patients.  

COVID-19 patients in Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai are being treated with this method, authorities report. 

Lu Hongzhou, professor and co-director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, said in February the hospital had set up a special clinic to administer plasma therapy and was selecting patients who were willing to donate. 

‘We are positive that this method can be very effective in our patients,’ he said.

Meanwhile, the head of a Wuhan hospital said plasma infusions from recovered patients had shown some encouraging preliminary results.

The MHRA has approved the use of the therapy in the UK, but it has not been revealed which hospitals have already tried it. 

How does it work? 

Blood banks take plasma donations much like they take donations of whole blood; regular plasma is used in hospitals and emergency rooms every day.

If someone’s donating only plasma, their blood is drawn through a tube, the plasma is separated and the rest infused back into the donor’s body.

Then that plasma is tested and purified to be sure it doesn’t harbor any blood-borne viruses and is safe to use.

For COVID-19 research, people who have recovered from the coronavirus would be donating.  

Scientists would measure how many antibodies are in a unit of donated plasma – tests just now being developed that aren’t available to the general public – as they figure out what’s a good dose, and how often a survivor could donate.

There is also the possibility that asymptomatic patients – those who never showed symptoms or became unwell – would be able to donate. But these ‘silent carriers’ would need to be found via testing first.

Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda is working on a drug that contains recovered patients antibodies in a pill form, Stat News reported. 

Could it work as a vaccine? 

While scientists race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, blood plasma therapy could provide temporary  protection for the most vulnerable in a similar fashion. 

A vaccine trains people’s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ. The plasma infusion approach would give people a temporary shot of someone else’s antibodies that are short-lived and require repeated doses.

If US regulator the FDA agrees, a second study would give antibody-rich plasma infusions to certain people at high risk from repeated exposures to COVID-19, such as hospital workers or first responders, said Dr Liise-anne Pirofski of New York’s Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That also might include nursing homes when a resident becomes ill, in hopes of giving the other people in the home some protection, she said.

 

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