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BOSTON (KDVR) — A Colorado family of doctors and its research counterparts – who are affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – are optimistic about its studies into an anti-blood clotting drug and the medication’s potential to help COVID-19 patients.

“(These patients are) forming clots in their legs and their lungs and their heart, and so this, we think, makes sense,” Dr. Gene Moore said.

Moore is a Denver trauma surgeon conducting research into the drug Alteplase (or tPA) with his two sons, Dr. Hunter Moore and Dr. Peter Moore as well as East Coast doctors, Dr. Christopher Barrett and Dr. Michael Yaffe.

“The big question is: will it be effective in the lung injury caused by the COVID virus and will the COVID virus itself make the situation more dangerous to give this type of a drug?” Gene Moore said.

Traditionally, the medication is used to dissolve blood clots in stroke and heart patients. However, the doctors are investigating whether it can be used “off-label” to dissolve clots in the vessels of a COVID-19 patient’s lungs.

The doctors said tPA carries a risk of bleeding in the brain when used for non-stroke indications.

“This could potentially be a game-changer by liberating patients from ventilators faster so that there are more ventilators available for other patients who would die without one,” said Barrett, a senior surgical resident at BIDMC. He is also a visiting scientist at MIT. 

The researchers have been observing a group of fewer than 20 COVID-19 patients who received tPA treatment in various hospitals outside of Colorado. While they cannot say with certainty whether the tPA therapy is working, they’ve been encouraged by the results.

“I think in almost everyone, we’ve seen some initial improvement,” said Yaffe, an MIT professor and an attending surgeon who also provides critical care to COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at BIDMC.

Barrett said some patients have exhibited sustained improvement, but others seem to regress to their original state after their initial gains.

Many have been given different doses. 

“Figuring out the correct dosing regimen – whether or not patients need to be re-dosed – is going to be important,” Barrett said. “And I think that just draws attention to us needing a formal, clinical study, urgently, in a time of crisis.”

The group is asking the Food and Drug Administration to approve a formal study.

Patients who are receiving the treatment may have also received a variety of other treatments, including hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. 

“It’s challenging to figure out if (tPA) works or not, but one piece of encouraging data we have is that patients who have received all of the other therapies except tPA have not done as well as the patients who have received those therapies and received tPA, but the numbers are small and it’s hard to know if that’s statistically meaningful yet,” Yaffe said.

Barrett said he knew of at least one patient who demonstrated “remarkable improvement” who later died of multiple organ failure.

Yaffe said that patient “did not apparently die from respiratory failure but instead, from other things.”

He said they have also observed “what appear to be relatively miraculous improvements in patients who’ve received this drug, but we cannot say for sure whether it was the drug.”