Four women scientists, in white coats, in front of green trees in a clinic, laughing and walking towards the camera.

Apheresis: Effective Long COVID Treatment

Novem­ber 11, 2021 — A rese­arch team from the Depart­ment of Phy­sio­lo­gi­cal Sci­en­ces at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Stel­len­bosch (SU) is on their way to Mül­heim in Ger­ma­ny to meet with Dr. Bea­te Jae­ger, who pio­nee­red the use of aphe­re­sis in the tre­at­ment of peo­p­le with long COVID, to work together.

This is part of an inter­na­tio­nal rese­arch and col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve effort focu­sed on the tre­at­ment of long COVID. In South Afri­ca alo­ne, it is esti­ma­ted that the pre­va­lence of per­sis­tent COVID sym­ptoms that last lon­ger than 90 days affects at least 45% of the 2.7 mil­li­on South Afri­cans who have sur­vi­ved SARS-Cov‑2 infec­tion. This means that over 1.2 mil­li­on South Afri­cans may need fur­ther medi­cal assis­tance for this very poor­ly unders­tood condition.

Prof. Pre­to­ri­us, head of the SU Depart­ment of Phy­sio­lo­gi­cal Sci­en­ces, says that the social and eco­no­mic bur­den of this con­di­ti­on will be stag­ge­ring if effec­ti­ve tre­at­ments are not deve­lo­ped: “We will work with Dr. Jae­ger work tog­e­ther to deter­mi­ne the effec­ti­ve­ness and fea­si­bi­li­ty of H.E.L.P. aphe­re­sis in the tre­at­ment of individuals

Aphe­re­sis essen­ti­al­ly means the sepa­ra­ti­on of plas­ma from blood cells in order to remo­ve patho­ge­nic sub­s­tances from the blood in the tre­at­ment of chro­nic meta­bo­lic dise­a­ses. H.E.L.P. aphe­re­sis, wher­eby H.E.L.P. stands for hepa­rin-indu­ced extra­cor­po­re­al lipo­pro­te­in / fibri­no­gen pre­ci­pi­ta­te con­sists of four steps: plas­ma sepa­ra­ti­on, pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on with sub­se­quent fil­tra­ti­on, hepa­rin adsorp­ti­on and ultrafiltration.

Dr. Jae­ger has been working with the H.E.L.P. sin­ce 1985. ‑Aphe­re­sis and tre­ats pati­ents with meta­bo­lic dise­a­ses in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the inven­tor of the machi­ne. She is curr­ent­ly using the B Braun H.E.L.P. aphe­re­sis machi­ne to tre­at peo­p­le suf­fe­ring from Long COVID to fil­ter out micro clots, clot­ting fac­tors, cho­le­ste­rol, fibri­no­gen, cyto­ki­nes, the COVID spike pro­te­in and autoantibodies.

It was only after Prof. Pre­to­ri­us found evi­dence of over­loa­ding inso­lu­b­le inflamm­a­to­ry micro-clots cir­cu­la­ting in the blood of peo­p­le with long-COVID that aphe­re­sis began to make sen­se as a poten­ti­al tre­at­ment opti­on. This phe­no­me­non has so far gone unno­ti­ced as nor­mal coagu­la­ti­on tests do not real­ly reflect the hyper­co­agulable con­di­ti­on in acu­te COVID pati­ents. Typi­cal labo­ra­to­ry patho­lo­gy tests are usual­ly only per­for­med on plas­ma, wit­hout any cel­lu­lar mate­ri­al such as platelets.

Prof. Pre­to­ri­us says the col­la­bo­ra­ti­on will be inva­luable in eva­lua­ting the tech­no­lo­gy and estab­li­shing a tre­at­ment pro­to­col for the tre­at­ment of long COVID. Based on this ongo­ing rese­arch effort, she and Dr. Chan­tel­le Ven­ter with the sup­port of Dr. Jaco Laub­scher is deve­lo­ping a micro-clot and plate­let gra­ding sys­tem that will help inter­pret results and tre­at peo­p­le with long COVID more personally.

Accom­pa­nied them to Ger­ma­ny are Dr. Chan­tel­le Ven­ter, tech­ni­cal offi­cer and head of the blood labo­ra­to­ry in the SU Depart­ment of Phy­sio­lo­gi­cal Sci­en­ces, as well as Esté Bur­ger and Simo­né Tur­ner, who both com­ple­ted their post­gra­dua­te stu­dies at SU in 2020. You are curr­ent­ly employ­ed by the SU start-up com­pa­ny Bio­CODE Tech­no­lo­gies.

In South Afri­ca, Prof. Pre­to­ri­us works clo­se­ly with Dr. Maré Vlok, a seni­or pro­teo­no­mic ana­lyst at the Cen­tral Ana­ly­ti­cal Faci­li­ties of the SU, and Dr. Jaco Laub­scher and Dr. Johan Lou­rens, both inter­nists at Medicli­nic in Stel­len­bosch, tog­e­ther. They exami­ne coagu­la­ti­on and plate­let defects in both acu­te and long COVID patients.

Aut­hor: Media & Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, Facul­ty of Mathe­ma­tics and Natu­ral Sci­en­cesV — published

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