Health officials discuss clinical trials in Northwest Louisiana, their difficulties in fighting COVID-19

“It’s really important that people recognize that they can help others by donating plasma after they have recovered from this”
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan, China.
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan, China.(AP)
Updated: Apr. 15, 2020 at 9:09 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Northwest Louisiana healthcare professionals are helping pave the way by being among the first in the nation to launch testing to combat COVID-19.

Clinical trials are new tests and treatments that are studied to see how safe and helpful they are or can be before being made readily available to the general public.

LSU Health Shreveport officials held a news conference Wednesday to discuss updates in their clinical trials, their Emerging Viral Threat Lab and testing.

“Serology and the idea of antibodies have been in the news quite a bit because it’s the next set of tests you really want to run in understanding what’s going on with this infection,” said Dr. Matthew Woolard, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology.

“We’ve looked for the virus first. What serology let’s us do is ask questions about the immune system and if your immune system has seen the virus.”

LSU Health Shreveport announced Wednesday it has launched COVID-19 antibody tests to check whether someone who has recovered from the virus has developed antibodies against it.

And CHRISTUS officials announced Tuesday the they are providing the screening tool with the results back in 10 minutes.

If a person recovers from the virus, they can participate in one of the several convalescent plasma therapy trials happening in Northwest Louisiana. A plasma transfusion takes antibodies from those who have recovered from COVID-19 to give to someone who is battling a more aggressive case of the virus.

“These antibodies are really important in neutralizing the virus and helping the individuals who are severely sick with this disease to better fight off the virus and allow them to recover,” Woolard said.

LSU Health Shreveport and Willis-Knighton Health System have partnered with LifeShare individually to launch plasma therapy trials.

“If they have recovered from a coronavirus infection, they are eligible to serve as donors,” said Dr. Joseph Bocchini, director of children’s services for the Willis-Knighton Health System. “It’s really important that people recognize that they can help others by donating plasma after they have recovered from this.”

Doctors say to learn more about being a plasma donor, you can contact LifeShare, your primary care physician or the Region 7 office of the Office of Public Health.

Another clinical trial LSU Health Shreveport is conducting involves inhaled nitric oxide. Two people are participating. They are being administered high doses of nitric oxide. When it’s inhaled, medical professionals say, it can kill the coronavirus while helping oxygen flow to the lungs.

Doctors say some who are dying from COVID-19 are dying from lung failure.

“It’s mainly a pulmonary disease,” said Dr. Keith Scott, of LSU Health Shreveport. “It really causes tremendous inflammation of the lungs to the point where you can’t oxiginate.”

But while Northwest Louisiana healthcare professionals are leading the country in conducting clinical trials to find new ways to fight COVID-19, they admit it’s been difficult.

The coronavirus isn’t new, but the strand COVID-19 is.

“It definitely is a learning as you go," Bocchini said. “This is a very severe viral infection for a certain percentage of those affected who not only end up in the hospital, but end up in intensive care and need a ventilator.”

Bocchini said while we see many recover from COVID-19, some who carry the virus are asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms. They can give it to someone who is older or has underlying health issues, which he said are those who are most affected.

“We don’t understand how this virus really attacks those people more severely than others, but we do know now with a lot of data that these individuals are more high risk for this disease or a more serious outcome," Bocchini said.

Scott, who is the principal investigator of one of the trials that LSU Health Shreveport is conducting in conjunction with Harvard, said they’ve talked among themselves about the difficulties COVID-19 presents.

“We’re all pretty much baffled because this disease behaves like no other disease we have ever seen."

“Pulmonary diseases have always been kind of predictable; and this disease is anything but predictable,” Scott said. "All of the things we thought we knew we are having to relearn; and we are actually learning as we go.

"A lot of this, unfortunately, we are not going to really figure out until much later when we can retrospectively look back and see what worked and what didn’t.”

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