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Have you recovered from virus? Researchers want your blood

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Jaidyn Snowden has donated his blood to experimental immunotherapy research that is turbo-charging T cells of people who only got slightly ill from the virus.

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As the race to find a coronavirus vaccine continues, a Queensland medical research team is instead looking to create immunotherapy treatments for COVID-19.

But first, they need your blood.

The QIMR Medical Research Institute in Brisbane wants 50 volunteers who have contracted coronavirus and been released from quarantine to donate their blood.

Doctor Corey Smith is leading the research effort and hopes to develop a new T cell immunotherapy for COVID-19 patients by studying how each volunteer’s immune system responded to the virus.

He believes patients who respond well to COVID-19 have more effective T cells in their blood but wants to do more research into the theory.

“We need to test that theory in the laboratory and that’s why we need blood samples from recovered patients,” Smith said.

“We will grow their T cells in the lab and screen them against the virus to see if they fight it,” he said.

‘It was weird, I felt completely fine’

Jaidyn Snowden, 20, contracted the virus at the University of Queensland in March.

“I was the second student to test positive,” he said.

“I was really shocked at first to find out that I had it because I only had slight headaches and a runny nose, I didn’t feel sick at all.”

Jaidyn spent 11 days in isolation at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane’s north.

“It was weird, the nurses came to see me in big hazmat suits but I felt completely fine,” he said.

“I’ve had colds that have been worse than that, I was feeling pretty much entirely healthy.”

Jaidyn has volunteered to participate in the QIMR Berghofer research and has already donated his blood.

He is joining the COVID-19 fight for his vulnerable family members, fearing their bodies may not cope with the virus as well as his.

“I have elderly grandparents who have been through chemotherapy and have respiratory issues,” he said.

“My mum has had pneumonia a couple of times, so she wouldn’t handle [COVID-19] too well either.

“In a situation where there’s not a lot we can do, it’s probably best to do whatever we can.”

Hopes of treatment within eight months

Smith and his team are aiming to take T cells from donors like Jaidyn and turbocharge them in a laboratory to recognise and attack the coronavirus.

He hopes the immunotherapy will save the lives of severely affected COVID-19 patients.

“While a lot of the scientific community is rightly looking to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19, we don’t know exactly when one will be available,” Smith said.

He believes non-vaccine-related research like this is also important in the fight against COVID-19 to buy medical experts some time before a vaccine is developed.

“Even once a vaccine is developed, it’s likely some people will still get the virus, as we see with influenza,” he said.

“We want to use our expertise in immunotherapy to help the sickest patients who struggle to fight this virus.”

Smith hopes an immunotherapy will be developed in six to eight months.

Any Queenslanders who want to take part in the study and who tested positive to COVID-19, recovered, and been cleared by Queensland Health to end self-quarantine, can sign up for the study.

– ABC / Jess Rendall

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