Professor Gisli Jenkins, at Imperial College London, who is leading the study, said: “This is an ambitious study that will help us understand how common and severe the long-term pulmonary consequences of COVID-19 are, and will help us develop new treatment approaches for people suffering from long-term lung inflammation as a result of COVID-19.”
“Breathlessness is a big problem for many people with long-COVID, particularly on exertion. For people with more severe lung scarring, this can be a devastating disease. We don’t yet know how frequent and how long-term the consequences will be. Even if the long-term outcomes are no worse than for people with similar lung damage from flu, the sheer numbers of people who have had COVID-19 are so huge.”
Dr Karen Piper Hanley, at the University of Manchester, who will study the cells in the lungs, said: “This MRC award pulls together our best researchers and clinicians around the UK to build our understanding of COVID-19 and long-term lung damage post infection, which for some individuals can be devastating. By bringing together this collective knowledge and expertise, this project has the potential to impact patient care globally and develop new treatments to improve lung damage post-COVID-19.”
The study is funded as part of UKRI’s COVID-19 Agile Call, which has so far invested more than £180 million in over 450 projects and consortia to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “It is thanks to the pioneering work of our brilliant scientists and researchers that we now know so much more about COVID-19 than we did just one year ago – including the lasting effects it can have on patients.
“Bringing together some of the UK’s finest researchers, this new nationwide study will analyse the full impact of lung damage caused by the disease, helping to inform new treatments that could benefit patients across the world, as we build back better from the pandemic.”
Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI which funded the study, said: “This research is key to understanding how and why the virus causes some people to suffer long-term lung effects after COVID-19 infection. It will be an important tool in developing more effective treatments for patients.”
To understand the full spectrum of lung impacts, the study will include a range from patients, from those who have been hospitalised or placed on a ventilator to those in the community who had less severe COVID-19.
They hope to recruit approximately 250 people with symptoms suggestive of possible lung scarring, such as breathlessness or a persistent cough, to find out more about their long-term lung damage at three and 12 months after COVID-19 infection.
Cutting-edge xenon MRI scans will be performed in a subset of patients. These use a safe, inert gas which is inhaled, so the scan can measure the effectiveness of gas exchange inside the lungs.