The Government has funded nearly £20 million for research projects to help improve understanding of long Covid, improve diagnosis and find new treatments.

The extensive programme of 15 new research studies by 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.

According to NICE, long Covid describes signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute Covid-19. It includes both ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 (from 4 to 12 weeks) and post-Covid-19 syndrome (12 weeks or more).

The projects will focus on:

  • better understanding 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
  • identifying effective treatments, such as drugs, rehabilitation and recovery, to treat people suffering from chronic symptoms
  • improving home monitoring and self-management of symptoms, including looking at the impact of diet
  • identifying and understanding the effect of particular symptoms of long Covid, such as breathlessness, reduced ability to exercise and ‘brain fog’.

Research will provide much needed hope to people with long Covid

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 projects include:

  • STIMULATE-ICP at University College London Hospitals NHS Trust which will be the largest long Covid trial to date, 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
  • the immunologic and virologic determinants of long Covid at Cardiff University with nearly £800,000, which 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 backed by nearly £1 million, which will assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long Covid in people who are overweight or obese
  • LOCOMOTION at University of Leeds with £3.4 million, which focuses 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 backed by £1.8 million, which 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.

Cognitive impairment in long Covid

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."

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