May 19, 2020

UW Health to treat COVID-19 patients with plasma from survivors

COVID-19 Survivors Needed

If you have recovered from a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 and would donate your plasma to help others who are critically ill, you can learn more by contacting the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767, or emailing Physicians from any hospital treating patients with COVID-19 can register their patients at for potential inclusion in the plasma trial.


To be eligible to donate plasma for this trial, potential donors must have received a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 but be free of symptoms for at least 14 days. Donors will be re-tested for COVID-19 to make sure they are no longer infected. If those results are negative, they will then be allowed to donate their plasma, which will be directly assigned to a specific patient in need.

Video: Dr. William Hartman Explains How Donated Plasma Can Help Patients

Dr. William Hartman Explains How Donated Plasma Can Help Patients

UW Health to Treat COVID-19 Patients with Plasma from Survivors

UW Health and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) are part of a nationwide effort to study whether giving blood plasma from people who survived COVID-19 to patients who are seriously ill with the disease can help shorten the duration or severity of their illness.

UW Health is joining with 40 other institutions that have created a national effort to test "convalescent plasma" as a therapy for seriously ill patients. The hope is that antibodies in the plasma of people who have recovered will help others fight the disease.

The lead investigator is Dr. William Hartman, assistant professor of anesthesiology at SMPH, who has led a team that worked around the clock to start this clinical trial, an effort that normally takes months. The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of plasma to treat COVID-19 patients on April 3.

"In many ways we are going back to the basics for this potential therapy," said Hartman, who is the primary investigator of the study. "The idea of using blood from someone who has already recovered from a disease to treat a patient who is fighting that same sickness has been around for more than 100 years. While we are hopeful that it will provide similar benefits for patients who are sick with COVID-19, we just don’t know the answer yet."

UW Health and SMPH will be working with partners, including Exact Sciences, and the American Red Cross, to test potential donors and collect the blood. A partnership with Green Cab and Zerology will allow donors to have free transportation for testing and plasma donation.

The idea of using blood from people who have recovered from a disease goes back to the 1894 diphtheria epidemic, said Prof. Susan Lederer, chair of medical history and bioethics, whose book "Flesh and Blood: Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in 20th Century American," looked at these early "serum" therapies.

"Desperation bred all kinds of experimentation," Lederer says. Unfortunately, physicians a century ago couldn’t test the donated blood for pathogens and didn't match blood types between donor and recipient, so the therapy often did more harm than good. It has been used to treat other diseases, ranging from the 1918 flu to yellow fever to most recently, the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak.

Lederer is encouraged that the new convalescent plasma trial is part of a nationwide effort -- including prestigious organizations such as UW, Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University -- so it will result in better evidence than past efforts.

"In the early 20th Century, it was all based on anecdotal evidence," she said. "Often in the past these were undertaken by individual physicians, they weren’t collecting data, they weren’t systematic. This is the best possible outcome. We’re being responsive to the needs of patients, and collecting data in a systematic way that will be useful when the next pandemic comes."

"In the modern era, advancing clinical research demands the highest level of quality and safety. This is our focus for any clinical trial conducted at UW, " said Betsy Nugent, MSPH, CCRP, chief clinical research officer at SMPH and UW Health. "While the immediate goal of the COVID Convalescent Plasma Project is to provide a possible treatment option to the most seriously ill patients, the information we gain throughout the project will be invaluable for future outbreaks."

More recently, convalescent plasma was studied in the treatment of other respiratory infections, including the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic, and the 2012 MERS-CoV epidemic. SARS and MERS are both coronaviruses. Based on those studies and some limited data published recently by doctors in China, Hartman and others believe convalescent plasma has the potential to lessen the severity or shorten the length of illness caused by COVID-19.

While there are currently a small number of people in Wisconsin who have recovered and are eligible to donate, the number is expected to grow in coming weeks. UW Health plans to treat its first patient the week of April 13.

Support Ongoing Convalescent Plasma Research

To make a financial gift to support ongoing research into convalescent plasma, visit