Long Covid: UK university running multi-million-pound research project

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  • Researchers in the UK are recruiting 800 participants in their 30s to learn more about long Covid.
  • Participants will come on board over two years and be divided into four groups.
  • This project is different from other studies on long Covid, the researchers say.

As Covid-19 becomes endemic in parts of the world, researchers are shifting their focus to the condition that leaves millions of people with debilitating symptoms long after their acute infection.

In the UK, hundreds of people are being recruited for a multi-million-pound long Covid research project.

The research is being conducted by the University of Bristol, and participants belong to the Children Of The 90s project – a multi-generational study that has allowed scientists to carry out 2 500 research studies on various health issues over the years, including childhood obesity, air pollution, and mental health.

The team behind the long Covid study, known as Convalescence, hopes it will help them better understand why some people experience difficulty regaining normal health following their Covid infection.

“We hope this research will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of long Covid and point to ways that we can enhance recovery, improve healthcare, and assist people back to full health more quickly,” the website says.

Long Covid in England

A study published this year found that over two million people in England could have long Covid. The findings came from the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) study, led by Imperial College London (ICL).

“Our research shows that many people who have had Covid-19 will have lasting symptoms, and for some these may have a big impact on their quality of life,” said Professor Helen Ward from ICL. 

She added: “Given the number of infections in England, this represents a significant public health issue that needs to be urgently addressed through appropriate support and treatment.”

Children of the 90s project

The team aims to recruit 800 participants over two years. All of them will be in their 30s, having had their health monitored from cradle to adulthood as part of the Children Of The 90s project.

One of the participants of the study, who has volunteered to partake in the long Covid research project, told the BBC that, ever since his Covid infection 18 months ago, he’s been struggling to breathe and his eyesight has deteriorated.

“I don’t feel like I’m living my life as fully as I was,” said Michael Bradford.

The study is funded by a £9.4m (around R18.8 million) grant.

The study will be split into four groups: those with long Covid; those who’ve had Covid but have not developed long Covid; those who don’t have signs of antibodies (an indication of previous infection); and those who don’t have signs of antibodies but have a similar condition to long Covid.

How participants will be monitored

The participants are required to wear a wristband measuring their exercise ability, breathing, and heart rate, and will complete online questionnaires on mental health and cognitive function, explains the Convalescence study blog.  

Additionally, they can visit University College London’s deep phenotyping clinic where the team will perform non-invasive imaging and assess any potential damage to vital organs, such as the brain, lungs, and heart. 

This study has factors that set it apart from other long Covid studies, said the researchers.

They explained: “As detailed, pre-pandemic data has been captured on all individuals, this will help to identify the true effects of infection on disease, as opposed to progression of underlying ill-health, or indeed the general impact of government policies to contain the virus, such as lockdown and furlough which have also impacted long term health.”

Questions to be answered

One of the researchers behind the study, Alun Hughes, UCL professor of cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology, told the BBC he hopes to find "signals" linked to long Covid.

"We wonder whether they are linked to the symptoms people experience. If you have fatigue, is that something to do with having more severe effects on the muscle or the heart? If there is damage that's accrued as a result of Covid, that may have importance, particularly in 20 years time,” he said.

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READ | Distortion and loss of smell after Covid: Smell training can help, expert says

READ | Living with long Covid: Smell loss, hypertension, eye sensitivity – ‘This is not a friendly virus’

READ | Living with long Covid: From an induced coma to learning how to walk again – ‘I will fight’

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