Greater Houston-area health systems examine plasma transfusion as possible COVID-19 treatment

Houston Methodist researchers conducted a 25-patient trial in March and April to examine the safety of convalescent plasma transfusions as a possible treatment for COVID-19. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)
Houston Methodist researchers conducted a 25-patient trial in March and April to examine the safety of convalescent plasma transfusions as a possible treatment for COVID-19. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)

Houston Methodist researchers conducted a 25-patient trial in March and April to examine the safety of convalescent plasma transfusions as a possible treatment for COVID-19. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)

Several Greater Houston-area health systems this spring are investigating whether a decades-old plasma transfusion therapy may be a safe and effective method to treat COVID-19 patients.

The therapy involves the transfer of plasma from donors who recovered from confirmed infections of the new coronavirus to patients currently suffering from COVID-19. The experimental treatment is under evaluation as a possible method to enhance the immune responses of COVID-19 patients using the antibodies found in the blood of the recovered donors, according to researchers at several area hospitals.

The therapy was recently applied in a clinical trial of 25 Houston Methodist patients with severe cases of COVID-19. The hospital said the trial was the first in the nation used for COVID-19 patients.

While not yet approved in the U.S. for widespread treatment of COVID-19, the Houston Methodist researchers noted the therapy has been used in past viral outbreaks as far back as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and saw recent success in a small sampling of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China. Dr. Eric Salazar, an assistant professor of pathology and genomic medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and the principal investigator on the Houston Methodist trial, noted results from a study on a national 5,000-patient trial released May 14 also suggested the treatment is safe.

"The published literature describing convalescent plasma therapy, in general, seems to indicate that this is a fairly safe treatment option," Salazar said in an email.

Houston Methodist’s initial trial was aimed only at determining the safety of the therapy, rather than its effectiveness as a COVID-19 treatment, and ran from March 28-April 14. In the trial, each of the 25 participants received a single 300 milliliter transfusion of convalescent plasma and were monitored for a two-week span.

Following the trial’s conclusion, Houston Methodist researchers identified the therapy as a safe treatment option for COVID-19 in a May 13 report. In addition to that conclusion, researchers found 36% of the trial participants experienced clinical improvements one week after their transfusions and 76% of the participants had improved or were discharged after 14 days.

The treatment alone was not credited for improvements or recoveries, and researchers wrote factors including the timing, size and number of transfusions would need to be researched further to refine it for COVID-19. Salazar said the hospital is now considering conducting a randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the therapy's effectiveness for COVID-19 treatment.

Salazar said Houston Methodist elected to move forward on the 25-patient trial this spring as part of broader research into possible COVID-19 treatments and because of the hospital system’s access to around 200 recovered patient donors.

“We knew Houston Methodist had the ability to implement a convalescent plasma donor program, and given the lack of targeted treatment options, we felt it was our responsibility to pursue this as rapidly as possible. We were fortunate to have the vision of leaders, including Dr. Marc Boom, and the resources, including a large motivated team with a very diverse skillset, to implement a convalescent plasma donor program,” Salazar said.

Including the clinical trial, Salazar said nearly 100 Houston Methodist patients received a convalescent plasma transfusion and nearly 70 were discharged from the hospital as of May 21.

Similar work is also underway at other hospitals in the region. Thirteen hospitals within HCA Healthcare’s Gulf Coast Division are now participating in a national study to determine if plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients could benefit those currently hospitalized due to the virus.

Those who tested positive for the coronavirus and have since tested negative can donate plasma through the American Red Cross and other donation centers. HCA officials said the convalescent plasma’s antibodies could help the immune systems of individuals currently infected.

Similar approaches have been implemented during outbreaks of coronaviruses such as SARS-1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome, but additional data and donations are needed to determine the effectiveness of treating COVID-19, according to officials.

Officials have encouraged eligible volunteers to donate plasma since early May as part of the study being led by the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We are proud to take part in this important study,” Chief Medical Officer Mujtaba Ali-Khan said in a statement. “We are asking for the help of our community to spread awareness about plasma donation for patients facing COVID-19 not only in Houston, South Texas and Corpus Christi, but also around the world.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Memorial Hermann also announced their physicians were investigating the experimental plasma treatment in April. In a statement, the health organizations requested plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients and said the donation process for those who qualify would be similar to a standard donation of blood.

“This is one way for the community to work together to combat COVID-19,” said Dr. Henry Wang, a professor and executive vice chair of research in the Department of Emergency Medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, in the statement.

Ben Thompson - Danica Smithwick


Tomball ISD board members unanimously approved the decision at a Jan. 12 board meeting. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tomball ISD board approves extended sick leave for district employees for COVID-19

The approval comes after certain sick leave benefits provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired Dec. 31, 2020.

The estimated number of active COVID-19 cases in Harris County has surpassed 50,000, reaching 51,362 as of the most recent data Jan. 20, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Active cases top 50,000

See the latest trends on COVID-19 in Harris County.

The Conroe ISD board of trustees met Jan. 19 for its regular monthly meeting. (Screenshot via Conroe ISD YouTube)
Conroe ISD board approves Caney Creek attendance boundary changes, 2021-22 calendar

Board members also approved spending for 20 replacement school buses and annual safety and security projects.

Courtesy Baja Sur Fresh-Mex and Tequila Bar
40 restaurants that opened in 2020 or are coming in 2021 in The Woodlands area

Restaurants that opened in The Woodlands area in 2020 include locations that offer a variety of cuisines from casual to fine dining.

The barbecue eatery is the second Killen's Restaurant Group venture to launch in The Woodlands area. (Courtesy Killen's Barbecue)
Killen's Barbecue opens in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Magnolia ISD board members approved additional paid sick leave and a $500 bonus payment to district employees in a Jan. 19 board meeting. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)
Magnolia ISD staff to receive $500 COVID-19 bonus, additional paid sick leave

Magnolia ISD employees will receive additional paid sick leave and a one-time $500 bonus due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Montgomery County continues to see new daily highs in active COVID-19 case counts as hospitalizations rise. (Community Impact staff)
Montgomery County COVID-19 total case count increases to over 34,000; active case count decreases by 1,500

The total COVID-19 case count across Montgomery County has surpassed 34,000.

Zanti offers its take on carbonara pasta. ($16) (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Zanti Cucina Italiana brings authentic Italian taste to The Woodlands area in a casual environment

After taking about 2 1/2 years to select a location and design a concept, Santiago Pelaez opened Zanti Cucina Italiana to bring authentic Italian cuisine to The Woodlands area in June 2019 on Research Forest Drive.

The city of Shenandoah outlined several projects for the upcoming year. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Shenandoah announces 2021 projects including David Memorial Drive extension, water line replacement

One of the primary projects the city of Shenandoah will pursue this year will be the extension of David Memorial Drive to Hwy. 242.

Feeding Texas hosted a Jan. 19 webinar to discuss legislative highlights for the 87th Texas Legislature. (Screenshot courtesy Feeding Texas)
Food insecurity in Texas' 87th Legislature: Hunger relief organization Feeding Texas to propose legislation addressing hunger

Hunger relief organization Feeding Texas hosted a webinar Jan. 19 to discuss increasing funding and accessibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the 87th legislative session.

13 new businesses that opened in 2020 or early 2021 to check out in The Woodlands area

Tommy Bahama Home opened in January, and stores including an Amazon 4-star opened in 2020 in The Woodlands area.