Why Being "More Than a Blood Center" Helps NYBCe in the Fight Against COVID-19
New York Blood Center Enterprise (NYBCe) provides life-saving blood and blood services to nearly every hospital across the five boroughs in New York City as well as the whole tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), Mid-Atlantic area (PA, DE, MD, VA), Missouri and Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Southern New England. In addition to blood operations, products and lab services, the organization includes a research institute, a genomics division, and a biotechnology division — making NYBCe a truly comprehensive blood center.
The organization has joined together in the fight against COVID-19 as they are equipped with comprehensive capabilities that are well-suited for responding to the pandemic, including convalescent plasma collection, disease research, and vaccine research. However, sustaining these efforts requires financial contributions.
Let’s learn more about what being “More than a blood center” means to NYBCe during the current climate.
The COVID-19 Research Repository
NYBCe is meeting the critical needs of COVID-19 patients by providing them with COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP), which is potentially life-saving. NYBCe has exceeded their mandate during this pandemic by increasing their donor recruitment and laboratory capacity to develop the nation’s first CCP program. NYBCe has already provided 10,000 units of CP to patients as of May 2020.
The principal investigators of the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute (LFKRI) research division, are using this resource to begin pre-clinical phase trials for multiple vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They have also spearheaded a serology study of COVID-19 testing platforms that are currently in the field. In addition, the organization has started screening CCP for biomarkers that could predict the responses of patients in an effort to help accelerate the nation’s recovery from this pandemic.
Basic research is critical for designing effective therapies against COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics. The goal of the COVID-19 Research Repository (CRR) is to catalog and archive blood components such as plasma and immune cells that will provide the basis of future research. The efforts of Dr. Christopher Hillyer and Dr. Larry Luchsinger have already resulted in an impressive repertoire of samples in the CRR as of April 2020, which they continue to augment.
The samples in the CRR currently include the following:
- 2150 Population Prevalence Serum Samples
- 987 Convalescent Donor Plasma Samples
- 670 Convalescent Donor peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC)
These samples will foster collaborative research efforts between NYBCe investigators and the general scientific community to learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
COVID-19 Vaccine Research & Development
NYBCe has performed its research at the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute (LFKRI) since it was established in 1964. They have pioneered many studies in transfusion medicine, cellular therapy, hematology and infectious diseases, resulting in new therapies, patents and licenses. For example, they have developed vaccines for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and are now developing one for SARS-CoV-2. They are leveraging their research and development efforts to fight the current COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.
Cell Press recently featured three LFKRI researchers for their innovative work in developing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 by using liposomal encapsulation of specific mRNA, resulting in a vaccine candidate. They will continue their work in developing a vaccine by bringing the highest-caliber scientists in the world together.
Lanying Du, PhD, Head of NYBCe's Viral Immunology Laboratory, has studied SARS-CoV-1 for many years. Dr. Du is leveraging her decade of findings to quickly develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 that show great potential for preventing infection in the laboratory. Dr. Du has already identified two vaccine candidates during the last three months that entered preclinical trials on May 11, 2020 for safety, efficacy and manufacturing capability.
The first candidate is a messenger RNA (mRNA) delivery system, a new process that allows for faster vaccine development. The mRNA vaccine method is a new technology and has never been used in humans prior to COVID-19. Delivering RNA to human cells makes the viral antigen that the immune cells use to create antibodies and block the virus instead of a protein vaccine. Dr. Du and her team currently have a patent pending for the construction of their vaccine design. The second vaccine follows a traditional peptide-based delivery system — similar to the annual flu vaccine. These studies will continue through the summer, and clinical testing on humans will begin in September 2020 if researchers can establish the safety and efficacy of these vaccine candidates.
Dr. Sara Lustigman, Head of NYBCe’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory, has also developed a new combination of adjuvants that could result in a vaccine that’s superior to the other vaccines currently in trials.
COVID-19 Disease Research
In addition to preclinical trials for a vaccine, the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute is currently conducting multiple studies on COVID-19. They have several projects ongoing including studies on the collection and distribution of CCP in addition to antibody testing, biomarker screening, inhibitors, and therapeutic agents for COVID-19.
Additionally, as part of their ongoing collaboration sickle cell center partners, they are examining adaptive and innate immune responses in patients recovered from COVID-19, correlating laboratory (including plasma antibody responses to COVID-19) and clinical outcomes to their immune responses before and after infection. In most recent news, the largest study to date published in medRxiv and led by Dr. Larry Luchsinger, assistant member at LFKRI, in collaboration with Rockefeller University, analyzed 370 plasma samples donated from people who recovered from COVID-19. The findings uncovered a wide range of antibody levels in recovered COVID-19 patients, suggesting varying levels of immunity to prevent future infections.
These results of NYBCe’s research endeavors will support the nation in better understanding COVID-19 and its relationship with the immune system. A summary of their research projects is available for download here.
Help NYBCe in the Fight Against COVID-19
NYBCe needs your financial support to continue providing valuable healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include collecting CCP, screening for antibodies, and distributing units to hospitals. They also seek monetary contributions to further their vaccine research and other therapeutic agents for COVID-19. You can make a contribution in a number of ways, such as regular monthly contributions, a contribution in someone’s honor, and matching programs with your employer.