Have you recovered from coronavirus? Want to help doctors find a treatment? Here’s what they need from you.

A global program to test whether blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients can be used as a treatment got underway in the United States on Saturday but it needs blood donations to succeed.

The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project is investigating early reports from two small studies in China that showed such plasma can help others fight off severe forms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Each donor provides a pint of blood. Red and white blood cells are separated and put back into the donor’s bloodstream while the blood plasma — rich with virus-fighting antibodies — is kept aside.

Blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. Plasma makes up about 55 percent of blood by volume. It’s mostly water but also contains antibodies, clotting factors and proteins. It’s long been used to treat people suffering from burns, shock, trauma, some autoimmune disorders and hemophilia. Now COVID-19 patients may be added to the list.

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For the project, the donor and the patient must have the same blood type. The plasma is tested for multiple diseases including COVID-19, HIV and hepatitis to ensure it can’t infect the patient.

While convalescent plasma (from the blood of people “convalescing,” or recovering from having had a disease) has been used successfully in outbreaks of other diseases such as polio, measles and mumps, it’s not clear yet whether it will work for COVID-19.

To find out, researchers need to do many tests — and need lots of plasma. They have set up a webpage where people can read more about the process and register as potential donors. Donations will depend on when the person got sick, whether they were tested for COVID-19 and whether nearby sites are doing the work.

The program also is sending information to local researchers and physicians so they can reach out to possible donors. While few sites are currently up and running, the program is expanding, and the number is expected to increase with time.

People have been eager to take part, said Liise-anne Pirofski, an infectious disease specialist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

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“I can tell you from our experience, we are just overwhelmed with how many people have been reaching out. It is amazing how people who have recovered from this disease are so interested in being able to help others,” Pirofski said.

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Even outside New York City and with little media attention, the response has been strong, said Nigel Paneth, a Michigan State University department of epidemiology and biostatistics professor who is working on the effort.

The website went up Thursday and 30 people signed up the first day.

“As of this morning, we have 1,100,” he said Wednesday.

Weise reported from San Francisco for USA TODAY; Johnson reported from Milwaukee for the Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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