Louisville hospitals testing plasma from healthcare workers for COVID-19 antibodies

Louisville hospitals testing plasma from healthcare workers for COVID-19 antibodies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The plasma of medical providers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic could save countless lives.

Dr. Brian Derhake hopes to be a part of that solution. Derhake, an anesthesiologist, helps take care of coronavirus patients every day at Baptist Health Hospital in Louisville.

About three weeks ago, Derhake tested positive for COVID-19. His wife and three children also tested positive following his diagnosis.

“Patients in the ICU, they’re struggling,” the anesthesiologist told WAVE 3 News. “So we didn’t know how it was going to go, there’s no guarantee we would only have mild to moderate symptoms.”

Derhake said he experienced a cough, headache and lost his sense of taste and smell. When he eventually recovered, Derhake decided to donate plasma to a family friend who was battling the coronavirus. While his friend ultimately received convalescent plasma from someone else, Derhake decided he still wanted to donate plasma from recovered patients is believed to contain antibodies than can attack the virus.

“This has amazing potential to help people, and I’m optimistic that it’s going to work. There are some really sharp people working on it,” Derhake said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear and UofL President Neeli Bendapudi announced a new initiative with Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare and UofL Health called the Co-Immunity Project. The organizations were brought together by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in collaboration with the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute and the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council (LHCC).

“Hats of to them because the really took of their competitive hats and really looked at what was the best for the community and the world,” LHCC President and CEO Tammy York Day said.

Through the Co-Immunity Project, plasma from healthcare workers, like Derhake, will be tested to determine their level of immunity to the coronavirus. Those with the best immune response, or most antibodies, would be identified as donors for rescue treatment. In patients with high amounts of antibodies, “neutralizing power” will be evaluated.

Testing will be made available to other essential workers when the process is scaled up.

“It is an exciting time and it’s an exciting project that we can hopefully can get a lot of information out not just to our institutions but around the country,” UofL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Smith said.

While Smith says antibody testing is not a “silver bullet,” the project could still provide valuable data.

“I think more than anything, we’re going to have a head start. This data can help so much to inform when we’re ready,” York Day said.

UofL doctors say they still don’t have a complete understanding of how antibodies are formed against the coronavirus or if they’re effective.

The project secured private donations of $1.75 million in the form of a challenge grant as of Wednesday.

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