JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Thursday afternoon Ballad Health announced a new partnership with The Mayo Clinic for coronavirus research.

Officials with Ballad Health said the partnership with The Mayo Clinic will focus on researching. treatment options for patients with severe COVID-19.

CEO and President Alan Levine said part of the research involves collecting antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients in an effort to learn more about those treatment options.

Marsh Regional Blood Center will be collecting donations, and Dr. Evan Kulbaki said the center is looking for candidates for donation who have a documented diagnosis of COVID-19 and have been symptom-free for at least 14 days.

Ballad Chief Clinical Officer Amit Vashist explained that blood plasma contains antibodies, and people who have recovered from COVID-19 will have antibodies for the virus in their plasma.

He continued that as soon as researchers have the antibodies from plasma donations, infusions can begin for patients who need the treatment.

“We also believe from preliminary studies and the data coming through that patients who have this COVID-19 viral disease can, if they get antibodies from folks who have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to fend this disease off,” Vashist said.

“This could be a potential game-changer in our fight against COVID-19.”

Officials said donations will be accepted at Marsh’s Kingsport location immediately, with plans to expand donation sites to Bristol and Johnson City. Kulbaki said that Marsh’s mobile clinics don’t have the capacity to collect these donations yet.

Levine explained that people suffering severe illness from the novel coronavirus are often experiencing something called a “cytokine storm,” which he described as a patient’s immune response “overwhelming” their lungs and causing severe respiratory distress.

The objective of the treatment, he continued, is to redirect the immune system to “short circuit” the cytokine storm.

Kulbaki said that he believes donated plasma can be stored for up to a year and still be used to treat patients. He explained that similar treatment has been used for viral infections in the past like SARS and MERS.

Ballad’s Chairman for Clinical Research Chris Metzger also said that this treatment will only be available for hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory problems.

He said he hopes to see enough donations come in to cover the number of patients who would need the treatment.

“If you had one unit available and you had seven people (needing it), then you’re going to have to really try to make some tough decisions and then really ask other people to ramp up their donations to help the other six,” he said.

Levine said he and other officials believe the peak hospitalizations for COVID-19 haven’t hit the region yet, but added that the curve appears to be flattening.

If you have recovered from the coronavirus and would like to take part in the study, you are asked to contact the Marsh Regional Blood Center at 423-408-7500.

You can watch the entire news briefing on our WJHL Facebook Page below.