City of Hope
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By Samantha Bonar
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) awarded $750,000 to City of Hope’s John Zaia, M.D., for a clinical study on the use of blood plasma as a potential treatment for COVID-19. CIRM had approved emergency funding for COVID-19 research last month. Zaia, program director of the CIRM-funded City of Hope Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, will conduct the study to administer blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat those with the virus.
The mission of the City of Hope Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, part of the CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic Network, is to accelerate stem cell-based clinical therapies in regenerative medicine. Plasma is a component of blood that carries proteins called antibodies that are usually involved in defending our bodies against viral infections. Blood plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, referred to as convalescent plasma, contain antibodies against the virus that can be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The challenges with this approach include properly identifying convalescent plasma donors (recovered patients), determining the eligibility of those with convalescent plasma who want to donate, collecting the plasma, treating patients and determining if the plasma treatment was effective.
Zaia, Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy and director of the Center for Gene Therapy at City of Hope, and his team will create the COVID-19 Coordination Program to address those challenges. The program will partner with the medical teams at CIRM’s other Alpha Stem Cell Clinics, as well as infectious disease, pulmonary and critical care teams from medical centers and community hospitals across the state. Potential donors will be identified and thoroughly screened for eligibility using established national and state blood banking safety requirements. The convalescent plasma will be collected from eligible donors and administered by licensed physicians to COVID-19 patients, who will then be evaluated for response to the treatment and potential recovery.
“With CIRM funding, the City of Hope COVID-19 Coordination program will tap into CIRM’s network of researchers, physicians and our Alpha Clinics to deliver this treatment to patients in need,” said Maria T. Millan, M.D., president and CEO of CIRM. “It will also serve the critical role of gathering important scientific data about the plasma, safety and clinical data from treated patients.”
CIRM was created by California voters in 2004 to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. It has $3 billion in funding and approximately 300 active stem cell programs, including the one at City of Hope.
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