New research initiative will focus on root causes of long COVID

A new research initiative will investigate whether the persistence of the coronavirus in the body plays a role in the development of Long COVID, a poorly understood syndrome in which symptoms can persist months or even years after infection.

The Long COVID Research Initiative will seek to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 is still present in patients with long-distance symptoms and, if so, how it might be contributing to their condition.

The persistence of the virus in the body is one of several possible causes of long COVID that scientists are studying. Others include the possibility of infection leading to blood clotting problems that damage the circulatory system; that during the acute stage of an infection, the coronavirus could destroy important tissues, which could lead to a longer-lasting illness; and that the virus triggers an overactive immune response that leads to harmful inflammation or triggers certain antibodies to attack a patient’s own cells.

But for microbiologist Amy Proal, Chief Science Officer and co-founder of the Long COVID Research Initiative, viral reservoirs remaining in the body months or even years after an infection has cleared is “the simplest way why patients are still having symptoms, and in that sense it’s also the way which should be examined first.”

Proal noted that COVID-19 is able to evolve ways to evade immune system defenses. “If the immune system doesn’t recognize the virus,” she said, it’s hard to believe “that it’ll be completely eliminated.”

The new initiative, announced Wednesday night under the auspices of the PolyBio Research Foundation in Medford, Massachusetts, will fund projects by researchers from UC San Francisco, Stanford, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions .

A statement announcing the launch said more than $15 million has been raised so far by a scientific investment fund led by Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain network and the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, which is owned by the owner of the Los Angeles Times, provided by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Overall, the goal is to raise $100 million to support the initiative, according to a spokesman for the foundation.

Although the scientists will work in their existing labs, they will keep each other informed of their findings and share ideas, Proal said. The fruits of that effort will likely be months away, if not longer.

Researchers have learned a lot about the coronavirus over the past 2½ years, but much remains unknown about the long COVID.

There is no easy way to diagnose or treat the syndrome, which can include a variety of symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, diarrhea, fatigue, and neurological impairments such as “brain fog” that make it difficult to think or concentrate.

“Patients are suffering,” said Dr. Joann Elmore, professor of medicine, health policy and management at UCLA. “I want to be able to diagnose and treat things and we don’t have proof yet and I find it really frustrating.”

According to data collected by the US Census Bureau and analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 13 adults nationwide was suffering from long-distance symptoms in early August. In this study, long COVID was defined as symptoms that lasted three months or more and did not appear before infection.

Some persistent symptoms, such as loss of smell, are more specific to COVID-19 and can therefore more easily be linked to a previous infection. But other symptoms are harder to pinpoint.

“What about tiredness?” said Elmore. Is this because of the long COVID, “or is this a symptom that many of us will feel after the social isolation of the past two years?”

One thing doctors know is that the impact of a long COVID can be huge.

“If it affects even 1% of people who have had COVID in a population the size of the United States, that’s a tremendous number of people,” Elmore said. “It’s devastating.” New research initiative will focus on root causes of long COVID

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