Newswise — April 10, 2020 Nutley, NJ – Researchers and clinical experts at Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, are looking into the blood of COVID-19 survivors, as a potential treatment for current COVID-19 patients. 

The work will scrutinize the antibodies within the serum of the surviving patients, in an attempt to discover more about the disease, and perhaps develop new ways to fight it. 

“I’m so proud of our robust and innovative response to this unprecedented global challenge, from our front-line care teams to our support staff, and our exceptional researchers,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Our scientists have been at the forefront of the latest innovations, including developing our own test and taking part in clinical trials of antiviral drugs. Now they’re taking a leadership role in this advanced antibody work, which could prove to be a breakthrough.” 

“It really is a race against time,” said Michele Donato, M.D., FACP, CPE, chief of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, and who is leading the potential treatment part of the work. “People are getting sick right now, and we are working night and day to save as many lives as possible.” 

Convalescent plasma treatments have previously been used to fight other viral outbreaks, including those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), caused by a virus that’s a cousin to the one responsible for COVID-19, and which sickened thousands in 2002-2003. 

At Hackensack Meridian Health, the researchers will first seek a small blood sample from those recovered or recovering patients who volunteer for the study, with the goal of finding those who developed the highest levels of targeted antibodies in response to the virus. 

Those patients with the highest level of antibodies will be asked to return to provide a larger plasma donation, which may be utilized to infuse into very sick COVID-19 patients. 

Taking part in this work will be experts from Hackensack Meridian John Theurer Cancer Center including Donato, who are experts in stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy, as well as scientists from Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), who have developed a high-titer test to assess the presence and levels of the antibodies. The CDI also previously developed a diagnostic test for detecting the virus which has been used to diagnose more than a thousand patients so far in the Hackensack Meridian Heath network. 

“This is applied science in ‘real-time,’ as this pandemic continues to spread,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “Our scientists at the CDI are responding to needs, and we’re hoping to save lives.” 

“Research at Hackensack Meridian Health is more important than ever, and we are hopeful it will give us the edge against this pandemic,” said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, president of Hackensack Meridian Health's Northern Market, and the chief research officer of the network.  

The patients sought for the studies will be between the ages of 18 and 60, and have a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19. They must also be at least 14 days without symptoms, according to the guidelines. 

Potential donors can fill out an online form available here for the initial screening.