LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky will start testing its healthcare workers, looking for antibodies to stop the spread as COVID-19 cases keep climbing in the Commonwealth.
The purpose is to help its healthcare workers understand whether they were unknowingly exposed to COVID-19, to determine how much immunity was generated by such exposure, and to identify those with the best immune responses as donors of high quality plasma for rescue treatment of patients with advanced COVID-19.
“Hopefully we can identify those who may be immune already, or have developed immunity,” said University Hospital’s Dr. Jason Smith.
U of L Hospital will join Baptist Health and Norton Healthcare to study the strength of antibodies and learn more about potential treatment plans. It’s in collaboration with the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute and the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.
“The kind of testing the lab can do will give us a great understanding of how do we identify those that are going to produce a good antibody, and then how do we identify those patients that might be able to donate their plasma to treat someone else,” said Dr. Smith.
There will be three steps of testing. First, a point-of-care test will provide a yes or no answer on the presence of antibodies. In a second step, positive blood will then be assayed for the amount of antibodies present in the blood. Finally, in patients with high amounts, the neutralizing power of the antibodies will be evaluated, according to the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.
Dr. Smith said Thursday UofL hopes to eventually start transfusing plasma to coronavirus patients, which is something already being done at Norton Healthcare, with help from Dr. Joe Flynn.
“By end of tomorrow we'll have 13 to 14 patients treated [with plasma] and that number will be even higher by this time next week,” he explained.
It's been a week since plasma was transfused to the first four patients in the clinical trial who were on ventilators because of COVID-19.
“We've seen improvements in virtually everybody whose received plasma,” Dr. Flynn explained.
It's too early to consider this a cure, but he and Dr. Smith both hope the new research with antibodies will bring more answers.
“We still have an incomplete understanding of how antibodies are formed to this virus. This study is trying to answer many of those questions,” said Dr. Smith.
If you have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate your plasma, click here.