Long Covid funding to unearth new treatments

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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Thousands of people with "long Covid" could benefit from the funding of 15 new studies of the condition, its causes and potential treatments.

Researchers from across the UK will investigate everything from brain fog to ongoing breathlessness, using a new technique to detect hidden lung damage.

They will be backed by £20m from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Long Covid is still not yet fully understood.

Although many people make a full recovery after having Covid-19, some do go on to experience symptoms for many weeks or months afterwards, even if they were not ill enough to be treated in hospital at the time.

There is still no official definition for this condition, and estimates vary over how common it is.

But doctors are clear it can cause a broad range of long-term symptoms, including fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, brain fog and breathlessness, which are not seen to the same extent with other viruses.

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One study being funded with this new money, led by University College London, will test whether everyday medicines such as aspirin and anti-histamines can help people recover.

It will recruit more than 4,500 people with long Covid who will be tracked over three months of treatment.

Another study will investigate the common long-lasting problem of brain fog, which many people say affects their daily activities and their ability to work.

Using detailed brain scans of those affected, researchers hope to learn the cognitive impairment means and how it can be treated.

And at University of Oxford , a research team will focus on the causes of ongoing breathlessness – another common complaint in those with long Covid.

Hidden lung damage

A new technique means scientists are able to detect damage to the lungs, even when it doesn't show up on standard scans.

Prof Fergus Gleeson, study leader and professor of radiology and consultant radiologist, from University of Oxford, said the new scans trace inhaled gas moving into and out of the lungs.

"We can see if there has been damage to the airways in the lungs, or to the areas where oxygen crosses into the bloodstream, which appears to be the area damaged by Covid-19," he said.

Research will also be carried out at University of Glasgow to assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long Covid in people who are overweight or obese.

At Cardiff University, researchers will look at whether an overactive or impaired immune response could be driving long Covid.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new research was "absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments" and would be life-changing for those battling the long-term symptoms of the virus.

He said it would build on the 80 long Covid assessment centres open in England.

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