UCL researchers lead £11m projects to investigate Long COVID

£11m in funding has been awarded from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support research studies into Long COVID and the diagnosis.

Data from over 60,000 people will be used across two research studies, the first to be conducted over three years to improve diagnosis and the second to focus on 11-17 year olds.

The studies will explore why some people get the condition, the effects on a person’s health and ability to work, and the factors that affect recovery.

Researchers will analyse data from a combination of national anonymised electronic health records and ongoing longitudinal studies of people of all ages in the UK (including four cohort studies hosted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children).

From these studies, people reporting Long COVID and comparator groups will be asked to wear a wristband measuring exercise ability, breathing, and heart rate. Participants will complete online questionnaires on mental health and cognitive function. They will also be invited to a clinic for non-invasive imaging to look at potential organ damage.

Professor Chaturvedi, who is leading the three year study, commented: “The sad thing is, we know very little about Long COVID at the moment and that really underlines the need for new research.

“By taking a whole population perspective, including hard-to-reach groups, we hope to understand the enduring consequences of COVID-19 and inform best practice for all of us.”

Professor Stephenson who is leading the study on 11-17 year olds, added: “It is really important in science to ‘believe what you hear, not hear what you believe’ and so we plan to ask 3,000 children and young people to tell us about the impact of COVID-19 infection on their health over the next two years. We will also ask 3,000 young people who tested negative for COVID-19 the same questions.

“That will help us tease out whether ongoing problems are due to COVID-19 infection or due to COVID-19 lockdown, social isolation, and disruption of schools and friendships.

“There’s hardly any evidence or data from around the whole world about Long COVID in children and young people, and that’s why it’s vital that we do this research now.”

Approximately one in 10 people with COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms and impaired quality of life beyond 12 weeks. A systematic review has highlighted 55 different long-term effects but common symptoms of Long COVID include breathlessness, headaches, cough, fatigue and cognitive impairment or “brain fog”.