STUDY WILL TEST WHETHER EBOLA SURVIVORS’ BLOOD CAN TREAT VIRUS IN OTHERS
Making plasma available is a complex task. Plasma is the clear part of blood, and the part that contains antibodies. In Africa, donors’ blood will be filtered through a machine to remove small amounts of plasma and return the rest of the blood to the donor — a process that allows someone to donate as often as every two weeks.
One of the first patients successfully treated for Ebola in the U.S. — aid worker Dr. Kent Brantly — received plasma from a 14-year-old boy he treated in Africa, where he was infected. Brantly has donated plasma several times to Ebola patients in the U.S.
A plasma recipient must have a compatible blood type as the donor. Survivors who give plasma also must be tested to make sure they are cured of Ebola and don’t have other diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis or HIV. The Africa study will take an added step — use of an experimental system by Cerus Corp. for inactivating viruses in blood.
Dr. Ada Igonoh, a doctor in Nigeria who got Ebola from a patient and recovered, expects to donate plasma and recruit others for the study.
“Survivors will be willing if they understand the goal,” she said.
She and Brantly met with Gates to discuss the project earlier this month at an American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene conference in New Orleans.
Dr. Luciana Borio, who is leading the Food and Drug Administration’s Ebola response, spoke at the conference about plasma. Even though it seemed to help in some cases, “The bottom line is that we don’t really know if it helps and to what degree it might help,” she said.
“We would love to not be in the same situation in the future,” and a study is the only way to know for sure, she said.
Clinical Research Management Inc., a Northeast Ohio company that contracts with sponsors to run clinical trials, will lead the plasma study in Africa. Plasma will be collected through three bloodmobiles donated by another Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen, and the Greenbaum Foundation. The bloodmobiles have been flown to Africa.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) will provide Ebola testing for the study. Several universities will help, as will the Blood Centers of America and the Safe Blood for Africa Foundation. About a dozen companies donated equipment and supplies.