U.S. NIH Launches ‘Long COVID’ Study
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a significant new initiative to identify the causes and ultimately the means of prevention and treatment of individuals who have been sickened by COVID-19 but don’t recover fully over a few weeks.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, NIH, stated on February 23, 2021, ‘large numbers of patients who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 continue to experience a constellation of symptoms long past the time, that they’ve recovered from the initial stages of COVID-19 illness.’
Dr. Collins continues by saying ‘Often referred to as “Long COVID,” these symptoms, which can include fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, and depression, can persist for months and can range from mild to incapacitating.
In some cases, new symptoms arise well after the time of infection or evolve.
In December, the NIH held a workshop to summarize what is known about these patients who do not fully recover and identify critical gaps in our knowledge about the effects of COVID-19 after the initial stages of infection.
In January 2021, I shared the results from the most extensive global study of these emerging symptoms. While still being defined, these effects can be collectively referred to as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).
We do not know the magnitude of the problem yet, but given the number of individuals of all ages who have been or will be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the public health impact could be profound.
In December 2020, Congress provided $1.15 billion in funding over four years for NIH to support research into the prolonged health consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
A diverse team of experts from across the agency has worked diligently over the past few weeks to identify the most pressing research questions and the areas of greatest opportunity to address this emerging public health priority.
Today we issued the first in a series of Research Opportunity Announcements (ROAs) for the newly formed NIH PASC Initiative. Through this initiative, we aim to learn more about how SARS-CoV-2 may lead to such widespread and lasting symptoms and develop ways to treat or prevent these conditions.
We believe that the insight we gain from this research will also enhance our knowledge of the basic biology of how humans recover from the infection and improve our understanding of other chronic post-viral syndromes and autoimmune diseases, and other diseases with similar symptoms.
Some of the initial underlying questions that this initiative hopes to answer are:
What does the spectrum of recovery from SARS-CoV-2 infection look like across the population?
How many people continue to have symptoms of COVID-19 or even develop new symptoms after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection?
What is the underlying biological cause of these prolonged symptoms?
What makes some people vulnerable to this but not others?
Does SARS-CoV-2 infection trigger changes in the body that increase the risk of other conditions, such as chronic heart or brain disorders?
These initial research opportunities will support a combination of ongoing and recent research studies and the creation of core resources. We anticipate subsequent calls for other kinds of research, particularly opportunities focused on clinical trials to test strategies for treating long-term symptoms and promoting recovery from infection.
Throughout this pandemic, we have witnessed our patient, medical, and scientific communities’ resilience as they have come together in extraordinary ways. The NIH deeply appreciates the contributions of patients who have not fully recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection and who have offered their experiences and insights to lead us to this point, including those with other post-viral infections.
Through the PASC Initiative, we now ask the patient, medical, and scientific communities to come together to help us understand the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection and how we may be able to prevent and treat these effects moving forward,’ concluded Dr. Collins edited, excerpted comments.
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