New Studies Launched Into Diagnosis and Treatment of Long COVID

Peter Russell

July 19, 2021

The ending of most lockdown restrictions in England coincided with a £19.6 million Government investment in 15 new research programmes to investigate long COVID.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the money would improve understanding of the condition and was aimed at improving diagnosis and finding new treatments.

A recent investigation, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation, found that up to 1 in 3 people infected by SARS-CoV-2 reported persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks.

It also found that around 10% reporting said their symptoms were severe, with women, obese people, and those living in the most deprived regions more likely to be affected.

University Funding Projects

The funded projects include:

  • STIMULATE-ICP at University College London (UCL) to 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

  • A study of the immunologic and virologic determinants of long COVID by scientists at Cardiff University that will look at the role of the immune system in long-term disease and whether overactive or impaired immune responses could drive long COVID by causing widespread inflammation

  • ReDIRECT at University of Glasgow that will assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long COVID in people who are overweight or obese

  • LOCOMOTION at the University of Leeds that will aim to identify the most effective care from assessments in long COVID clinics

  • EXPLAIN at the University of Oxford that 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 lungs

STIMULATE-ICP

Prof Amitava Banerjee/SMC

The STIMULATE-ICP study, with £6.8 million of funding, will be the largest long COVID trial to date and involve around 4500 participants with the condition. Professor Amitava Banerjee, honorary consultant cardiologist at UCL, said: "Individuals with long COVID have long been asking for recognition, research, and rehabilitation.

"In our two-year study across six clinical sites around England, we will be working with patients, health professionals, scientists across different disciplines, as well as industry partners, to test and evaluate a new 'integrated care' pathway from diagnosis to rehabilitation, and potential drug treatments."

The LOCOMOTION study at the at University of Leeds has been awarded £3.4 million, with the aim of establishing a 'gold standard' of care for treatment of patients in the UK.

"Although there are 83 long COVID clinics in England, most people have not had access to them, and face long waiting times to be seen," said Dr Manoj Sivan, who will lead the research.

"Analysis will be conducted in 10 long COVID clinics, at home and in doctors' surgeries, and the study will track referrals and evaluate different services through patient interviews to make sure they are efficient, accessible, and cost-effective," he said.

'Much Needed Hope'

Prof Nick Lemoine/SMC

Professor Nick Lemoine, chair of NIHR’s long COVID funding committee and medical director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), commented: "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."

Sajid Javid, secretary of state for health and social care, 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."

Recent findings of the REACT-LC study suggested that the likelihood of experiencing long COVID increased with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood in each decade of life.

Prof Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial College London, described the findings as "concerning" and urged policy makers to take the condition into account when planning future health care.
 

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