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COVID-19 treatment for adults may be effective in children, study suggests

Mckinley Edelman, 26, a recovered COVID-19 patient, donates plasma to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital at Inova Blood Services on April 22, 2020, in Dulles, Virginia. (Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Convalescent plasma may be an effective treatment for children who develop life-threatening disease complications from the coronavirus, researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia say. 

Convalescent plasma is a method designed to pull parts of the blood that have COVID-19 antibodies out of individuals who’ve recovered from the virus and give it to people infected, but have not yet developed an immune response. The treatment is typically administered to those with severe infections.

To date, coronavirus treatments of all types have only been studied in adults. No evidence exists regarding what might work in children.

“Some children who contract this virus can develop serious complications, so even with limited data in adults, we believed it was worth exploring the use of convalescent plasma as a possible treatment option,” Dr. David Teachey, senior author of the study and director of clinical research at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said in a news release.  

One such complication is multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)–a condition where the heart, lungs, brain, among other organs, become inflamed. MIS-C is thought to be a post-infection immune response, but evidence also shows children can also contract the disease with varying degrees of severity.  

Researchers assessed four pediatric patients, ages 14 to 18 years, with a SARs-CoV-2 infection. All were classified as critically ill, on ventilators and required intubation. None of the patients were diagnosed with MIS-C.

Donor antibody levels were measured and then administered to recipients. Antibody response to the virus was measured both before and after convalescent plasma infusion.

After convalescent plasma transfusion, three patients showed a positive response with no evidence of what’s called antibody-dependent enhancement. Antibody-dependent enhancement is an immune response that amplifies a virus rather than neutralizing it. Serum SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies “eventually surpassed the amount transfused, indicating that these patients mounted a [positive] post-transfusion…response,” authors wrote in the paper published in Nature.

One patient showed an increased immune response after infusion for several weeks, yet died as a result of COVID-19 related heart inflammation 25 days into the study.

“We believe that convalescent plasma may provide the greatest benefit for patients who are early into their illness and have not yet generated endogenous antibodies,” Teachey said. “While the small sample size of our study does not allow us to draw any definitive conclusions, we believe this method is safe and future research should include randomized controlled trials to more definitively examine how effective convalescent plasma may be in treating children.”

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.