UW-Health to use ‘superpower’ antibodies from COVID-19 survivors as potential treatment

MADISON, Wis. – As we await a vaccine and official cure for COVID-19, UW-Health is planning a trial treatment with the help of those who have already beat the virus.

Anesthesiologist Dr. William Hartman is leading a team of physicians, scientists and staff members to use convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for patients considered severely ill or in life-threatening condition.

Hartman explains that means taking plasma from a donor who has recovered from the coronavirus. That plasma contains an antibody which has killed the virus, referred to by Hartman as a “superpower.” That will then be transferred to a patient in need.

“The fact that our heroic donors that defeated the virus have this antibody in their system, this superpower in their system, we’ll be able to use that to hopefully treat many patients and lessen the severity of the disease,” Hartman said.

The effort is part of a national consortium started by Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins University, now made up of about 40 institutions. Hartman said he and his team have worked around the clock for the past week and a half, condensing what would usually be eight to ten months of work into eight to ten days.

“It was an unbelievable effort by many individuals to get this program where it is right now,” he said.

The use of convalescent plasma has been successful during outbreaks of other diseases in the past, such as the Spanish flu and Ebola. Hartman said while there’s not a lot of data out there for COVID-19 yet, early results from this type of treatment in China seem promising.

“We’re aggressively trying to get donors here in Madison and also statewide,” he said.

To be eligible for the trial, potential donors must have received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and be symptom free for at least 14 days. They will also be retested to confirm they are no longer infected.

The number of those eligible is expected to increase significantly over the next few months. Those interested in donating plasma to the project can call 608-262-8300 or email uwcovid19project@hslc.wisc.edu. Doctors treating COVID-19 cases at any hospital can register their patients at uwcovidplasma.org.