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Dr. Sarah McBeth ’04: Investigating Plasma Treatments from COVID-19 Survivors
Sarah McBeth Headshot

As a specialist in internal medicine and infectious diseases, Dr. Sarah McBeth ’04 practices outpatient medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Center for Care of Infectious diseases. She also serves as the Medical Director for Allies for Health + Wellbeing, providing primary care for people living with HIV. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. McBeth is using telemedicine through phone and video platforms to ensure continuity of care for her patients.
At that same time, she has taken on a critical role as part of the UPMC team of providers investigating the use of plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat those still suffering from the disease. Part of a national trial authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, UPMC’s project began treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients with the technique in late April.

“Blood plasma from survivors – known as convalescent plasma – contains antibodies that could potentially benefit patients with active COVID-19,”  she explains. “While the technique has been successful with other diseases, we need to gather scientific data to understand if it will be effective for the coronavirus. My colleagues and I at the infectious disease clinic are testing volunteer plasma donors to see if they have the appropriate antibodies and are now clear of COVID-19, which is necessary for them to move forward with the donation.”  

“There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19,” says Dr. McBeth. “That is the most challenging aspect of my work right now. With known diseases, we understand their progression and characteristics and we have a solid basis for treatment decisions. This coronavirus is so new and different from other viruses, and it is critical that we quickly gather as much data as possible.”

“I’m continually inspired by how many people are willing to help in this effort. Potential donors are stepping forward in the hopes that their bout with COVID-19 will help someone else. Colleagues at all levels of UPMC are pitching in and working long volunteer hours on the project, going above and beyond their own job responsibilities.”

Dr. McBeth credits the liberal arts background of her Muskingum experience with preparing her to adapt to uncertain situations. “I think flexibility is key at all times, but especially at an unprecedented time like this. As Muskies, we have that broad-based ability we can draw upon when situations aren’t going according to our plans.”

After graduating from Muskingum with triple majors in biology, chemistry, and molecular biology, Dr. McBeth earned her M.D. and M.P.H. degrees from Wright State University. She completed an Internal Medicine Global Health Track residency, which included work in Mozambique, and an Infectious Diseases Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She was honored with a 2019 Muskingum Emerging Alumni Award.

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