UK trial aims to find hidden lung damage caused by long Covid

Study is part of £20m research drive that scientists hope will end stigma around the condition

A clinical trial has been launched to detect currently invisible lung damage in people with long Covid, as part of a £20m research drive that scientists hope will end stigma around the condition.

Patients still suffering breathlessness will be drawn from long Covid clinics in Sheffield, Manchester and Cardiff to undergo special scans using xenon gas to reveal damage that does not show up on conventional CT scans, leading to a mystery about why people are not getting better.

The study by Fergus Gleeson, a professor of radiology at the University of Oxford, is one of 15 being funded by the National Institute for Health Research that will range from working out why the virus causes “brain fog”, through to counting the economic cost to the NHS and to companies whose employees are left too ill to work.

Long Covid is defined as having one or more Covid symptoms – including fatigue, muscle pain and diarrhoea – lasting more than 12 weeks and is estimated to affect more than 2 million people.

The investment more than doubles the institute’s current research funding into the condition, with a battery of “very large-scale studies to characterise the disease and understand it better,” said its medical director, Prof Nick Lemoine.

One of the trials will examine the effectiveness of drugs, including aspirin, in about 4,500 patients recruited in six cities. It will look at “surprising findings of mild organ impairment across multiple organs”, according to Dr Amitava Banerjee, an associate professor in clinical data science at University College London (UCL).

Asked about public doubts over the seriousness of the illness, which manifests in different ways from cognitive impairment to breathlessness, Banerjee said: “All of the long Covid clinics that have been set up have waiting lists. This is not in doubt and is very far from imaginary.”

Another will examine the cognitive profile of long Covid to determine whether it affects memory or the speed of decision-making while exploring whether cognitive rehabilitation, as used in stroke victims, may help.

A trial of app-based therapies will be overseen by Dr Dennis Chan, a principal research fellow at UCL, who will also undertake brain scans to find out how brain volume changes and how its connections are affected because of the virus directly penetrating into neural pathways.

One of the challenges facing researchers is examining long Covid in people who have not been hospitalised and working out pathways for treatment and determining whether hospital clinics or GPs are best placed to tackle the problem.

Lemoine said it had already been established that middle-aged people and particularly women were more likely to have long Covid. He cited a University of Birmingham study suggesting people who had more than five symptoms in the first week of having the virus were more likely to develop it.

In potentially good news for younger people, Lemoine said results from an ongoing study of more than 10,000 school-age children and young adults who had received a positive diagnosis suggested “the prevalence of long Covid in that cohort is less than in middle-aged or elderly people”.


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boy, 7, asks 'am I next?' after mother and grandmother die with Covid-19
Relatives die four days apart; plastic surgeon dies in Manchester; and tribute to Southampton hospital porter

Gregory Robinson

01, May, 2020 @5:00 PM

Article image
UK cities shut out of Brexit discussions, say leaders
Representatives of some of the biggest cities outside London met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels

Jennifer Rankin

19, Feb, 2018 @7:53 PM

Article image
UK Covid: Burnham tells Sturgeon to justify Scotland ban on non-essential travel to and from Manchester – as it happened
Mayor of Greater Manchester writes open letter to Scotland’s first minister about decision ban on non-essential travel to and from city

Andrew Sparrow

21, Jun, 2021 @5:04 PM

Article image
Greater Manchester given midday Tuesday deadline for tier 3 deal
Government says it will impose tier 3 restrictions on the region if no agreement reached

Josh Halliday and Helen Pidd

19, Oct, 2020 @10:00 PM

Article image
Vaccine uptake in England almost halves ‘amid mixed messages’
Demand from under-30s slows, with Manchester and Sheffield health chiefs noting ‘false sense of security’

Helen Pidd and Niamh McIntyre

08, Jul, 2021 @4:21 PM

Article image
North of England mayors reject support plans for local Covid lockdowns
Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham said government package would mean ‘failure and collapse’ for businesses

Molly Blackall

10, Oct, 2020 @2:55 PM

Article image
Covid coughing link 'may be stopping people with lung cancer coming forward'
Referrals currently at 60% of pre-pandemic levels, figures from Cancer Research UK show

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

12, Oct, 2020 @12:35 PM

Article image
UK's first coronavirus contact-tracing group warns of difficulties
Retired doctors in Sheffield say their struggles show challenges government’s system will face

Sarah Boseley

21, May, 2020 @3:19 PM

Article image
Reduced Covid furlough scheme is an insult, say northern leaders
MPs and mayors say measures not enough as council leaders plead for local lockdown lifeline

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

09, Oct, 2020 @4:53 PM

Article image
Covid patients have lung damage 'weeks after leaving hospital'
Austrian research shows how recovery can be slow process for those with severe infection

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

06, Sep, 2020 @10:01 PM