University of California, Irvine

DARPA-funded microchip technology optimizes convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients

Newswise — Irvine, CA -  April 17, 2020 – A consortium of California scientists from government, academia and business today published an initial manuscript describing a novel approach to prepare convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients in BioRxiv.

In the paper, senior author Saahir Khan, MD, PhD, from the University of California, Irvine Department of Medicine, reports the use of a new and more accurate way of testing for antibodies against SARS CoV-2 in recovered patients as a means to characterize the potential effectiveness of their convalescent plasma for donation to sick patients.  The project used a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded microchip technology, originally developed for the study of the contagiousness of influenza and other common cold infections, including common coronavirus infections.

“It appears that recovered patients have different antibodies that target COVID-19.  This tool to comprehensively measure these antibodies will allow physicians to choose the most effective donors for convalescent plasma therapy,” said Philip Felgner, PhD, the director of the UCI Vaccine R&D Center.

To reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infection, the consortium is using pathogen inactivation technology, developed by Cerus Corporation, to inactivate blood-borne infectious agents (e.g.,viruses, bacteria, and parasites) which may be present in the donated plasma. 

“The use of this novel microchip technology, combined with pathogen inactivation, provides a promising therapy to treat these very sick patients while reducing the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections,” said Laurence Corash, MD, chief scientific officer of Cerus Corporation.

The coronavirus antigen microarray can be used as a diagnostic and epidemiologic tool to more accurately estimate the disease burden of COVID-19 and to correlate antibody responses with clinical outcomes.

The current practice for diagnosis of COVID-19, based on SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing of pharyngeal  respiratory specimens in a symptomatic patient at high epidemiologic risk, likely underestimates the true prevalence of infection,” said Khan, who designed the coronavirus antigen microarray.  “Serologic methods can more accurately estimate the disease burden by detecting infections missed by the limited testing performed to date.”

This research was conducted by The Convalescent Plasma for Emerging Pathogens Consortium (CPEP), a California-based partnership of academic research institutions, state public health laboratories, non-profit blood services, and biotechnology companies which are collaborating to develop platform technology for new therapies aimed at addressing the current coronavirus pandemic and future emerging pandemic pathogens. Organized by Cerus Corporation, the consortium is comprised of researchers from the California Department of Health, the Vitalant Research Institute, Vitalant Blood Services, the Vaccine Research and Development Laboratory at UCI, the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis, Enable Biosciences, and Cerus Corporation.

This research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

About the UCI School of Medicine

Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students, and nearly 150 doctoral and master’s students. More than 700 residents and fellows are trained at UCI Medical Center and affiliated institutions. The School of Medicine offers an MD; a dual MD/PhD medical scientist training program; and PhDs and master’s degrees in anatomy and neurobiology, biomedical sciences, genetic counseling, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, and translational sciences. Medical students also may pursue an MD/MBA, an MD/master’s in public health, or an MD/master’s degree through one of three mission-based programs: the Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM), the Leadership Education to Advance Diversity-African, Black and Caribbean (LEAD-ABC), and the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and ranks among the top 50 nationwide for research. For more information, visit



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