Men who have recovered from the coronavirus may be better plasma donors than women

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A recovered coronavirus (COVID-19) patient donates blood samples for plasma extraction to help critically ill patients at the National Blood Transfusion Centre on June 22, 2020. Ameer Al Mohammedaw/Getty Images
  • Men tend to get more severe cases of COVID-19, so male survivors in general have more antibodies in their blood, according to new data from England’s National Health Service.
  • That makes men particularly strong candidates for plasma donation, although all survivors are encouraged to see if they meet qualifications to donate.
  • Convalescent plasma, the antibody-rich component of blood, is being tested as a treatment for COVID-19, and pharmaceutical companies are working to turn it into a therapy.
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Men tend to get sicker from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but that may make them especially promising plasma donation candidates, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

Plasma, the component of blood that carries red and white blood cells and platelets through the body, develops antibodies to help fight off infection – in this case, to COVID-19.

The antibody-rich result, convalescent plasma, is being studied as a treatment for the disease.

While not all survivors have enough antibodies for their blood to be used in studies, 43% of men and 29% of women do, according to an NHS Blood and Transplant analysis of the nearly 600 survivors who donated plasma between April 21 and May 14.

The analysis also found that older, Asian, and hospitalized survivors had higher antibodies levels.

“We’d still like to hear from anybody who had coronavirus or the symptoms,” Prof David Roberts, associate director for blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said on the organisation’s website. “More plasma donors are needed. But we would especially want to hear from men.”

Plasma donation takes about 45 minutes and feels like blood donation, but involves separating plasma from blood and returning the blood back to the body. The body replaces the lost plasma within two days. People who meet the requirements can donate as often as every two weeks.

There’s still a lot researchers don’t know about COVID-19 antibodies, including if and how much producing them may protect people from contracting the virus again.

But once that data is available, it can better inform who’s best equipped to donate plasma for potential future treatments, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In the meantime, pharmaceutical companies and scientists are betting on plasma, with 10 biopharma companies working together to develop a plasma-based therapy for use by the year’s end,Business Insider’s Andy Dunn previously reported.

The potential treatment is different than simply giving a sick person a survivor’s plasma, and it could be among the first available in the fight against COVID-19.

“Our goal here is to have an effective therapy to bridge us to a point where either the pandemic is over because it dies out or because there’s a vaccine available or until there are many more effective treatments for patients with this disease,” Christopher Morabito, the head of research and development for plasma-based therapies at Takeda, which is co-leading the initiative, told Dunn.