By Dr. David Saperstein
Antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins) play an important role in health and illness. Many of you regularly receive intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) to treat your autoimmune disease. Flooding a person’s system with antibodies from normal, healthy individuals can reverse problems caused by abnormally overactive immune systems. However, providing antibodies that fight a specific infection can help a sick person recover from that infection. This is what is being studied now for covid19.
After someone recovers from a virus, our bodies produce antibodies that recognize the virus so our immune system can attack it we are exposed to it again in the future. While not a perfect defense, such antibodies can prevent subsequent infections or at least make our reaction to the virus less severe. These are called “protective antibodies.” Most people who have recovered from covid19 infection should have protective antibodies in their bloodstream. Blood taken from recovered patients can be processed to produce so-called “convalescent plasma.” It is hoped that convalescent plasma when given to a patient sick with covid19, will help that patient recover. We do not know if this will work, but it has worked for other viral infections and is an exciting area of research.
The plasma contains antibodies but not the virus itself, so there is no risk of transmitting covid19 infection via convalescent plasma. This plasma will come from blood donated by people who have recovered from covid19 infection. This will not prevent the processing of IVIG used routinely to treat GBS, CIDP and other autoimmune diseases. Also, there is no risk to these patients if they receive IVIG that contains antibodies derived from patients who were infected with covid 19.
While these are challenging times, it is good to know that the science of immunology can not only continue to help those of you with GBS/CIDP but also those suffering from covid19 infection.