By Tony O’Riley-
The British government is investing £20m into new research studies about the effects of long covid across UK, to support thousands of vulnerable people and help improve understanding of long COVID and identify effective treatments.
The Department Of Health And Social Care yesterday said that of people suffering with long COVID will benefit from new research programmes backed by £19.6 million to help better understand the condition, improve diagnosis and find new treatments.
Symptoms of long COVID symptoms are numerous, and some of them are manifested in the cases of some people, but not others. They include extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath. chest pain or tightness
problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”),difficulty sleeping (insomnia), heart palpitations, dizziness pins and needles joint pain , depression and anxiety. The duration of the effects vary with different people, affecting some for longer periods of time than others.
An extensive programme of 15 new research studies, backed by government funding through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will allow researchers across the UK to draw together their expertise from analysing long COVID among those suffering long-term effects and the health and care professionals supporting them.
The latest research shows that although many people make a full recovery following COVID-19, a significant proportion of people continue to experience chronic symptoms for months. The newly hailed studies aim to assist those most affected to return to their normal lives.
The projects will focus on better understanding of the condition and identifying it. Evaluating the effectiveness of different care services. Better integrating specialist, hospital and community services for those suffering with long Covid.
The University College London which will be the largest long COVID trial to date will be recruiting more than 4,500 people with the condition. With £6.8 million of funding, the project will test the effectiveness of existing drugs to treat long COVID by measuring the effects of 3 months’ treatment, including on people’s symptoms, mental health and outcomes such as returning to work. It will also assess the use of MRI scans to help diagnose potential organ damage, as well as enhanced rehabilitation through an app to track their symptoms.
Other top universities involved includes Leeds, Glasgow and Oxford University, each of which will bring different levels of expertise to bare in the project. University of Glasgow with the support of an estimated £1 million will assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long COVID in people who are overweight or obese.
The University of Leeds will have £3.4 million at their disposal, expected to focus on identifying and promoting the most effective care, from accurate assessments in long COVID clinics to the best advice and treatment in surgeries, as well as home monitoring methods that can show flare-ups of symptoms. The research aims to establish a gold standard of care that can be shared across England and the rest of the UK.
EXPLAIN at University of Oxford will be supported with £1.8 million of funding. Britain’s top University will seek to diagnose ongoing breathlessness in people with COVID-19 who were not admitted to hospital, using MRI scans to trace inhaled gas moving into and out of the lungs to assess their severity and whether they improve over time.
Improving home monitoring and self-management of symptoms, including looking at the impact of diet, and
Identifying and understanding the effect of particular symptoms of long COVID, such as breathlessness, reduced ability to exercise and brain fog.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:
”Long COVID can have serious and debilitating long term effects for thousands of people across the UK which can make daily life extremely challenging.
This new research is absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments and will be life-changing for those who are battling long-term symptoms of the virus.
It will build on our existing support with over 80 long COVID assessment services open across England as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition and over £50 million invested in research to better understand the lasting effects of this condition.
Professor Nick Lemoine, Chair of NIHR’s long COVID funding committee and Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), said:
”This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after COVID-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long COVID, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care. Together with our earlier round of funding, NIHR has invested millions into research covering the full gamut of causes, mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of long COVID.
The selection process for this broad range of innovative studies into long COVID involved people with lived experience at every stage and their input has been invaluable in shaping the outcome of this call and the research projects which will receive funding.
Long Covid is a terrible illness affecting thousands of people across the UK, and as it’s such a new disease, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it.
This UK Government funding, which is supporting studies led by the University of Glasgow and University of the West of Scotland, will help us make progress in understanding long Covid and hopefully improve treatment and support for patients right across the UK.
UK Government Minister for Wales Simon Hart said:
”The development and distribution of the vaccine means we can now see an end to the pandemic and Wales has played a significant part via Wrexham’s Wockhardt facility where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine continues to be produced.
Following this investment I hope Cardiff University can play a similarly important role in understanding and countering the long-term effects of the virus as we emerge from the pandemic.
Professor Amitava Banerjee, Associate Professor in Clinical Data Science and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, University College London, Chief investigator of the STIMULATE-ICP (Symptoms, trajectory, inequalities and management: understanding long COVID to address and transform existing integrated care pathways) trial, said:
Professor Amitava Banerjee Image: Research.birmingham.ac.uk
Dr Dennis Chan, Principal Research Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, Chief investigator of the CICERO (Cognitive Impairment in long COVID: PhEnotyping and RehabilitatiOn) project, said:
Cognitive impairment, referred to informally as ‘brain fog’, is a major component of long COVID that compromises people’s daily activities and ability to return to work. The aim of this study is twofold; first, to understand better the nature of this ‘cognitive COVID’ in terms of the cognitive functions affected and the associated brain imaging changes, and second, to test whether neuropsychological rehabilitation can improve people’s outcomes. If this study is successful we will not only understand much better the way in which COVID affects the brain but also provide NHS services with new tools to help people recover from their cognitive difficulties.
Professor Fergus Gleeson, Professor of Radiology and Consultant Radiologist, Oxford University, Chief Investigator of EXPLAIN (HypErpolarised Xenon Magnetic Resonance PuLmonary Imaging in PAtIeNts with Long-COVID) project, said:
Following on from our earlier work using hyperpolarised xenon MRI in patients following hospitalisation with COVID-19 pneumonia, where we showed that their lungs may be damaged even when all other tests were normal, it is critical to determine how many patients with long COVID and breathlessness have damaged lungs, and if and how long it takes for their lungs to recover.
Hyperpolarised xenon MRI is a safe scanning test that requires the patient to lie in the MRI scanner and breathe in one litre of the inert gas xenon that has been hyperpolarised so that we can see it using MRI. The scan takes a few minutes and does not require radiation exposure, so it may be repeated over time to see lung changes. Using this technique, we can see the xenon – which behaves in a very similar way to oxygen – move from the lungs into the blood stream. In this way, we can see if there has been damage to the airways in the lungs, or to the areas where oxygen crosses into the blood stream, which appears to be the area damaged by COVID-19.