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Published on April 15, 2020

Avera First in Area to Join Study of Plasma Therapy for COVID-19


Avera has joined a national coalition to test the effectiveness of convalescent plasma as a therapy for COVID-19 patients.

The Food and Drug Administration announced April 3 that Mayo Clinic would lead a national initiative to expand access to convalescent plasma treatment. Avera is one of 1,046 participating sites.

The therapy involves the infusion of donated blood plasma from an individual who has recovered from COVID-19 into a patient who is hospitalized with severe or life-threatening symptoms of the virus.

“Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood that could be beneficial to patients who are still fighting the most severe symptoms of this illness,” said Vinod Parameswaran, MD, Avera Medical Group hematologist. “Blood plasma therapy has been used from time to time over the last century, for example, during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and more recent SARS and Ebola outbreaks. We are excited to be part of this major health initiative.”

Small studies internationally have shown improvement of symptoms, leading to this wider scale expanded access program.

To participate, patients must meet certain criteria, including being at least 18 years old who are hospitalized with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms. Patients who receive the therapy will give their consent or have consent given by their legally authorized representative if they are incapacitated.

“The eligibility criteria are meant to be very broad to allow access to this treatment. Patients can receive this protocol only as inpatients if they have severe symptoms, or if their physician determines that they could develop severe symptoms,” said Lynn Bartholow, Executive Director of Research Compliance at Avera.

Avera is currently contacting recovering COVID-19 patients to see if they would be willing to donate plasma. Donated plasma is also available to participating hospitals like Avera from the American Red Cross and Mayo Clinic.

“We had a number of Avera teams come together very quickly to respond to this opportunity and make this therapy available to Avera patients,” Parameswaran said. “We have people who are repurposing their skills in innovative ways to make it happen.”

Infectious disease, critical care and hematology specialists; Avera Medical Group physician leaders; bone marrow transplant coordinators; research staff; and blood bank personnel are among teams participating in this initiative at Avera.

“We recognized the importance of this study and we recognized our wherewithal to bring everything together to join this initiative. Typically, participating in a research study like this would take months of preparation, but we got it accomplished within a short time. This took a very collaborative spirit that’s prevalent at Avera. This is a very promising therapeutic option in the treatment of COVID-19 hospitalized patients and we are thrilled to participate,” said Jawad Nazir, MD, Avera Medical Group infectious disease specialist.

Anyone who has had a positive test for COVID-19 and has now recovered from the illness is a potential plasma donor to help COVID-19 patients. They can call the Avera Center for Pediatric and Community Research at 605-504-3154 or email to learn more about donating blood plasma.

Patients can only receive this treatment if they are hospitalized. Interested patients should ask their attending physician.



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