Microsoft has developed a new chatbot to help folks who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus determine if they can donate plasma to help with clinical research and treatment.
Dubbed the CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, it is part of CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, a group of scientists, pharma companies and other stakeholders in an effort to recruit donations for plasma research.
The chatbot was designed to help screen patients before they donate plasma in person. The bot asks patients questions about their COVID-19 status and how long it has been since they had a negative test result. It will also ask questions often asked when people donate blood, including weight cutoffs, age and HIV status. Participants can also put in their ZIP code, and the bot will provide them with the closest plasma donation center.
This news come amid the growing use of plasma in treating the coronavirus. Currently there are two ways that recovered COVID-19 patients' plasma is being used. The first is to give patients with the disease transfusions with it.
The second reason that survivors’ plasma is being collected is to create a potential treatment called polyclonal hyperimmune globulin (H-Ig).
“Through the product manufacturing process, multiple plasma donations are pooled together and the antibodies are concentrated to consistent and reliable levels, meaning the medicine can be delivered in lower volumes and therefore would likely take less time to administer to patients than plasma itself,” Hadas Bitran, group manager of Microsoft Healthcare Israel; Jean Gabarra, general manager of Health AI; and Dr. Greg Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft Health, wrote in a Microsoft blog. “The H-Ig process also minimizes risk of any known virus or bacteria passing from donor to patient, thanks to the rigorous virus inactivation and removal steps that are embedded in the plasma product manufacturing process.”
The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance is currently looking to “accelerate the development of a potential H-Ig therapy” for the coronavirus.
WHY IT MATTERS
The number of coronavirus cases has now surpassed 2.2 million, according to the latest World Health Organization report.
All over the world, researchers are racing for treatments. Plasma has recently come onto the scene as a potential therapy. The CDC is encouraging people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma, citing the new national efforts to study convalescent plasma.
Just this morning the UK’s NHS Blood and Transplant organization announced its plans to solicit blood from recovered patients for plasma focused clinical trials.
“The sooner recovered COVID-19 patients donate convalescent plasma, the sooner the alliance may be able to start manufacturing a potential therapy and begin clinical trials,” the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance posted in a blog. “These trials will determine if this therapy could help high-risk COVID-19 patients recover and whether it could protect high-risk individuals from the disease. Time is of the essence: we’re now in an especially important but small window of opportunity with a critical mass of people hitting peak immunity as they recover from COVID-19.”
THE LARGER TREND
We’ve seen a trend of chatbots emerging to address the coronavirus pandemic. The bulk of the bots have focused on triaging patients for the condition. In fact, Microsoft previously developed a bot along these lines, called the CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker bot.
Buoy Health was one of the first chatbot companies to start a coronavirus symptom checker. It has since worked with the state of Massachusetts to use it as a first-line triage tool.
Health systems have also started developing their own chatbots. Providence St. Joseph Health created its own bot, which was built in partnership with Microsoft, for triaging new patients. This bot is linked up to an on-demand patient-care visit.