Photo Credit: Bill Greenblatt
By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
St. Louis Blues announcer John Kelly is among many recovered COVID-19 patients donating plasma for patients fighting COVID-19 and donating blood to be studied in research laboratories through the plasma transfusion program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Through the program, a few tubes of blood from each plasma donor will be sent to research labs so investigators can analyze the immune response to the COVID-19 virus and potentially develop new tests and treatments for the disease.
Kelly donated his plasma in hopes of saving the lives of COVID-19 patients and he hopes his donated blood for science can help researchers in their effort to treat future patients as well as prevent infection through the development of immunizations.
“I’m not a hero. The heroes are the front line workers, and the doctors and nurses. This is a very small price to pay for me to help. I’m happy to do it and I’ll do it as long at they want,” said Kelly. “We all want to help people. It’s such a simple thing to do, to donate blood.”
The Blues play-by-play announcer tested positive for COVID-19 in March.
“I would describe it as worse than any flu you’ve ever had,” said Kelly.
Once recovered, Kelly wanted to help patients fighting the disease. Since antibodies in the blood of survivors target the virus, plasma from recovered patients is transfused into people fighting COVID-19. Because it’s not a proven therapy, the plasma is being made available under the FDA’s “compassionate use” guidelines.
Dr. Jeffery Henderson is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine. Henderson is an infectious disease physician and scientist involved in coordinating a network of physicians in the United States who are interested in using convalescent plasma for Covid-19. He’s leading the effort at Washington University to study the immune response and develop new therapies.
“We can understand better by studying blood specimens from people after they recovered to see what kind of antibodies are available and what kind of antibodies are produced to the virus,” explained Henderson. “Are their antibodies able to prevent the virus from invading a human cell? What kinds of proteins on the virus do all of those antibodies recognize?”
Henderson said donations from COVID-19 survivors are needed for the development of antibody therapies.
“For antibodies that are manufactured and given to people, they (scientists) need to know what characteristics those antibodies should have in the design of monoclonal antibodies that are targeted against the virus, purified antibodies from donors or antibodies produced in a culture system that are basically industrially produced,” said Henderson.
The hope is to develop therapies that could prevent or effectively treat COVID-19.
“To prevent illness as a temporary vaccination, almost. Or it can be used as a treatment in replace of, or along with, a drug like remdesivir,” explained Henderson. “And they’ll help us identify possible antigens that can be used in a vaccine.”