Houston hospital first in U.S. to try experimental plasma treatment

Houston Methodist is the first academic hospital in the country to use a new plasma infusion treatment against COVID-19. Photo by Getty Images

A major Houston hospital is spearheading a crucial treatment in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Houston Methodist is the first academic medical center in the nation to be approved by the FDA to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient.

The experimental treatment was fast-tracked as the death toll in the coronavirus pandemic soared to more than 2,000 people across the United States and more than 100,000 Americans sick from the virus, according to a statement.

The concept of the treatment centers around the idea that plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies made by the immune system and used to kill the virus. Transfusing antibody-rich plasma into a COVID-19 patient who is still fighting the virus may transfer the power of the antibodies into a healing, possibly life-saving therapy, per the hospital.

Donating plasma is similar to donating blood and takes about an hour, according to Methodist. Plasma donors are hooked up to a small device that removes plasma while simultaneously returning red blood cells to their bodies. Unlike regular blood donation in which donors have to wait for red blood cells to replenish between donations, plasma can be donated more frequently, as often as twice a week.

Known as convalescent serum therapy, the concept dates back more than a century, when similar treatments were used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a diphtheria outbreak in the 1920s, a flesh-eating bacteria epidemic in the 1930s, and during other outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Most recently, a description of the treatment of five patients in China was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that the treatment was beneficial.

According to Methodist, scientists there recruited blood plasma donors from among approximately 250 patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at Houston Methodist hospitals. Willing donors were immediately identified; each gave a quart of blood plasma in a procedure much like donating whole blood.

The first recovered COVID-19 patient to donate plasma was an individual from the Houston metropolitan area who has been in good health for more than two weeks, according to the hospital. The plasma was then transfused into a COVID-19 patient at Houston Methodist.

Houston Methodist's convalescent serum therapy treatment is classified as an "emergency investigational new drug protocol" that requires FDA approval for each patient infused with donated convalescent serum, according to the hospital. Houston Methodist physician scientists will continue to seek additional FDA approval for follow-up studies, as time is of the essence.

"Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route, because unfortunately there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care, and the ongoing clinical trials are going to take a while," says Dr. Eric Salazar, principal investigator and a physician scientist in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, in a statement. "We don't have that much time."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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