Diana Berrent, COVID-19 survivor, takes selfie with Columbia clinicians

Columbia Starts Screening COVID-19 Survivors for Antibodies That May Save Others

Columbia's pathology laboratory has started screening COVID-19 survivors for antibodies that could be used to treat others.

On March 30, the pathology laboratory screened New York state’s first potential donor—Diana Berrent, a resident from Long Island who recently recovered from COVID-19. The lab will determine if the patient has enough antibodies—proteins made by the immune system that can neutralize viruses—to serve as a treatment or vaccine against COVID-19.

“Antibody-rich plasma from convalescent patients has been used for decades to treat diseases like influenza and even Ebola,” says Eldad Hod, MD, associate professor of pathology & cell biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead investigator of the research. 

The U.S. FDA on Thursday gave permission for physicians to use antibody-rich plasma to treat coronavirus patients.

Diana Berrent, COVID-19 survivor, is screened for antibodies that could help other patients

COVID-19 survivor Diana Berrent is the first person in New York state to be screened for antibodies that could be used to treat other patients with the disease. Image courtesy of Diana Berrent.

“In an unparalleled effort to speed the development of treatments for COVID-19, the state has approved our plan to screen potential donors for antibodies,” says Kevin Roth, MD, PhD, chair of pathology & cell biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and pathologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "Thanks to the generosity of this patient, who just recently recovered from COVID-19, we will be among the first to embark on this important mission.”  

Recovered patients who are interested can volunteer at CUIMC's Clinical Trials website. People who qualify will need to come to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center to have their nose swabbed (to confirm they are no longer infectious) and their blood drawn. Blood samples will then be analyzed immediately to look for the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Volunteers with sufficient levels of antibodies will be referred to the New York Blood Center, which will perform another blood draw and separate blood cells from plasma (the liquid component of blood that contains antibodies).

Photo credit: Diana Berrent

A single COVID-19 survivor may be able to provide enough plasma to treat two or three other patients.

“We are hearing from many recovered patients who want to give something back to the community and the doctors who cared for them,” adds Hod. “The sooner we obtain antibody-rich plasma the faster we can start using the plasma to treat other people with COVID-19.”

Anecdotal reports from China where the same approach was used suggest antibody-rich plasma reduces the amount of virus, though it may not reverse course of the disease in very ill patients.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have survived COVID-19, but others may not be so lucky,” says Berrent. “I strongly encourage people who have already had COVID-19 to consider being screened; it’s one of the most important ways to help other patients right now.”


Additional Information

Kevin Roth, MD, PhD, also is the Donald W. King, M.D., and Mary Elizabeth King Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Eldad Hod, MD, also is an attending in transfusion medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian and director of the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. 

Diana Berrent has launched a Facebook group, Survivor Corps, to connect survivors of COVID-19 and encourage them to become involved COVID-19 ambassadors and volunteers.