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Health Care

Blood plasma treatment for coronavirus set for Japan trial

Procedure pioneered by 19th century Japanese doctor already approved in US

Frozen plasma taken from blood donations is stored in Bern, Switzerland. Treatments with plasma have long been shown to help fight some infectious diseases.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will begin a clinical trial of a blood plasma treatment for coronavirus patients as early as this month, joining the U.S., Canada and China in experimenting with the century-old treatment.

The treatment involves infusing into patients blood plasma harvested from those who have recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Such infusions are hoped to contain antibodies that fight against the virus.

Blood plasma is a clear pale yellow fluid that makes up about 55% of human blood. It is mostly water, but also contains vitamins, salts and antibodies -- proteins that confer immunity.

Use of plasma as a treatment was pioneered in the late 19th century by a Japanese physiology, Shibasaburo Kitasato, who along with German scientist Emil von Behring discovered that infectious disease tetanus can be treated with blood serum collected from infected animals.

Reports from China indicate that patients with severe cases of COVID-19 have recovered after plasma treatment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed the use of this method, while a clinical testing has begun in Canada.

In Japan, the National Center for Global Health and Medicine will spearhead the trial, which carries the risk of side effects and infection with other diseases. 

Among Japanese companies, Takeda Pharmaceutical is developing a new drug using antibodies taken from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

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