Collaborating to fight COVID-19: Metro Health joins Mayo Clinic on convalescent plasma research

Tell me about your partnership with Mayo Clinic. How long have you worked with the researcher team there, and what types of therapies have you developed?

This is our first major protocol with the Mayo Clinic. Due to the emergent nature of the COVID-19 crisis, several institutions including the Mayo Clinic and Metro Health – University Michigan Health got together to discuss the convalescent plasma treatment protocol. We were able to come to an effective protocol within just several days. The protocol was approved by all institutions, and it is now up and running, treating patients with COVID-19.

When did you begin working on the convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19 patients?

We discussed the protocol approximately four weeks ago with the Mayo Clinic. In only a few days were able to discuss, review, and approve the protocol and begin treating patients. It has now been three weeks since we began treating patients with convalescent plasma, and the protocol is working very well.

Has convalescent plasma therapy been historically effective?

That is an interesting question. Similar plasma infusions were used to treat patients during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. More recently, convalescent plasma infusions have been used to treat SARS viral infections and the Ebola viral infection crisis.

How were potential patients for this new therapy identified? Were these patients part of a clinical trial, or was their condition life-threatening and immediate?

The protocol was discussed in great detail, and we are doing this in a very rigorous method, as part of a clinical trial, but also with a very rapid time from diagnosis to administering the convalescent plasma. We want to help these patients as much as possible, and also collect as much data as we can to learn from this treatment. 

The patients who are most likely to benefit are those who have a very prominent immune response to this infection, called a “cytokine storm." These patients are severely ill and if the convalescent plasma infusion is going to be administered, it needs to be done promptly.

When/where did they receive treatment and what was the result?

All of the patients we have cared for were treated in Metro Health’s Intensive Care Unit. We identified that they had a prominent immune response and would be good candidates for the convalescent plasma therapy. So far, all patients we have treated with this therapy have had a very positive response and their condition improved within 24-36 hours.

What are the next steps for convalescent therapy and research for Metro Health and Mayo Clinic?

We are performing the convalescent plasma treatment program as part of a research protocol. We are using it to help the patient's clinical condition in a very prompt response to their illness, but also obtaining as much information as possible and reviewing this information, so we can learn as much as possible from this treatment plan. Hopefully this will help us learn more about the COVID-19 infection process.

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Ronald Grifka, MD brings two decades of leadership to his role, which includes overseeing more than 500 Metro Health physicians. He provides leadership to medical education and serves as the chief clinical quality officer for the organization. Before joining Metro as CMO, Grifka was Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan, and an attending Cardiologist at C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
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