Southampton to help tackle long COVID impacts on the brain

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Southampton is set to collaborate on a study of brain function in long COVID. Led by University College London (UCL), it's one of 15 announced in a £19.6 million funding push to tackle long COVID.

A growing problem

In long COVID, symptoms are wide-ranging and fluctuating. They can include breathlessness, chronic fatigue, “brain fog”, anxiety and stress.

Yet little is understood about how long COVID occurs, or the best ways of managing it. With people continuing to develop COVID-19, the number of people affected is expected to grow.

That's the reason behind a £19.6 million National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Long COVID research fund which has recently announced funding for 15 studies. Each aims to advance our understanding of Long COVID and appropriate treatments.

Tackling cognitive issues

One of those studies (CICERO), led by UCL, aims to help the estimated 25-75% of those with long COVID who have ‘cognitive impairment’. This means they have trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions. As a result, many find it hard to return to work.

Prof. Chris Kipps, consultant neurologist and associate medical director for research and development at University Hospital Southampton, is leading Southampton’s involvement together with the Trust’s neuropsychology department.

Investigating long COVID’s effects on the brain

Cognitive tests and MRI scans will be used to study the extent and types of cognitive impairment. Links with symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, depression and poor sleep will also be explored.

Those data will drive work assessing rehabilitation methods for those with long COVID. Results here will identify effective approaches to restoring cognitive function, faster. They will also inform a “Covid-19 Cognitive Recovery Guide” for those affected, their family, friends and GP. It's hoped that combing the guide with proven rehabilitation methods will see people regain normal life, faster.

“Tackling long COVID is going to be a big challenge,” said Prof. Chris Kipps. “This study will help reveal what’s really going on in the brain of long COVID patients with cognitive impairment. And once we have that we can begin to find ways to treat it to help people return to their normal lives.”