Plasma was flown to Italy in June as the result of cooperation between Qatar Foundation, Hamad Medical Corporation and the Embassy of Italy in Doha
It was, in a year that has seemed to bring nothing but bad news, a rare good news story; one that showcased international cooperation at a time when it is needed more than ever. Plasma from patients in Qatar, who had recovered from COVID-19, was sent to Italy, in the hope that it might help doctors there understand how the body fights off the virus.
We know that males are more likely to develop a severe disease that triggers a higher level of antibodies in their plasma. But the quality of the antibodies is as important as the quantity
The plasma was flown to Italy in June as the result of cooperation between Qatar Foundation, Hamad Medical Corporation and the Embassy of Italy in Doha. According to Dr. Lucio Rispo, CEO of Sardinia Healthcare and Research Properties, the samples are being analyzing at the University Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome and the Mater Olbia Hospital in Sardinia. “We will assess the antibody response against the SARS-CoV-2 antigens by measuring the type of specific antibodies present in the donors and in the recipient patients,” he says.
“In the donor group, the quality and quantity of antibodies will be measured at different time points to monitor the energy of the antibodies’ persistence over a few months. We will also assess the protective activity of the hyperimmune serum by measuring its ability to prevent the adhesion and entry of the SARS-CoV-2 virus inside the cells.” The analysis of the first batch of samples should be completed by September, while the “experimental activities” will be completed by the end of the year.
While there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, the more research the scientific and medical community do, the more they learn. “We know that males are more likely to develop a severe disease that triggers a higher level of antibodies in their plasma. But the quality of the antibodies is as important as the quantity,” says Dr. Rispo.
“For these reasons we need to shed some more light on the immunological mechanism responsible for the protection afforded by hyperimmune plasma,” he adds.
International cooperation is important in any field, and most importantly when it comes to transmissible diseases
Dr. Rispo believes it is vital that the international cooperation showcased by this project is continued around the world. “International cooperation is important in any field, and most importantly when it comes to transmissible diseases. In a globalized world, collaboration and coordination is key in containing a pandemic like COVID-19; information and knowledge gained in one part of the world is very useful in order to deploy effective measures in another region,” he says.
This is particularly true of a disease which has affected every part of the world. “One lesson of the past few months is that we are learning by experience; and the more we share these experiences, the more we are ready to contain the disease. Fostering alliances between countries by strengthening collaboration in science, medicine, research will be pivotal to effectively fight COVID-19, as well as other diseases.”
And despite all the uncertainty over the current state of the world, there are some bright spots on the horizon, including the hope that a vaccine will be found. “It is amazing that in just a few weeks several new vaccines against a new disease as COVID-19 have been developed and entered clinical trials,” says Dr. Rispo.
“The preliminary data that has been gathered so far is encouraging but, as for any new vaccine, we need to wait and see how good these vaccines are at providing protection. The efforts to improve therapy are very important and shall go in parallel with the development of the vaccine.”
The reasons for the ‘weakening’ of the disease are many, yet the virus is still the same since no significant genetic changes have been detected
Some also believe that the virus is becoming less lethal, although as Dr. Rispo points out, there is no real evidence for that yet. “This is a matter of debate among scientists and clinicians,” he says. “In the last month, we have seen a dramatic reduction in the severity of the disease among the newly infected. The reasons for the ‘weakening’ of the disease are many, yet the virus is still the same since no significant genetic changes have been detected. It is very difficult to predict how a virus may evolve, and more so for a virus which is already very efficient in transmitting among the population.”