Sheffield to play key role in groundbreaking new study into long-term health impacts of coronavirus

22nd July 2020

A major UK study involving researchers from the University of Sheffield into the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 on hospitalised patients has been launched.

  • New study involving Sheffield researchers seeks to investigate the long term impacts of Covid-19 for patients who were hospitalised during the pandemic
  • The study seeks to help scientists and clinicians search for treatments that will help patients recover as fully as possible
  • The national study aims to recruit 10,000 people who were discharged from hospital following Covid-19 to study the short, medium and long term effects of the virus
  • To date there have been 286,979 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, resulting in 44,517 deaths

A major UK study involving researchers from the University of Sheffield into the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 on hospitalised patients has been launched.

This study is one of a number of Covid-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Around 10,000 patients are expected to take part which will make it one of the largest studies in the world to understand and improve the health of survivors after hospitalisation from Covid-19.

Symptoms of Covid-19 have varied among those who have tested positive: some have displayed no symptoms, while others have developed severe pneumonia and sadly even lost their lives.

Researchers from across the University of Sheffield, led by the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, will be involved in the study; bringing together valuable expertise in the fields of infectious diseases, respiratory medicine, imaging, cardiology and immunology to help uncover the scope of impacts the virus has on people’s health.

Professor Sarah Rowland-Jones, Sheffield’s Principal Investigator for the study, said:

“Although most people with Covid-19 recover completely, we are finding that some experience prolonged symptoms, such as cough, breathlessness, fever, tachycardia and fatigue, which may persist for weeks or months after the initial infection.

“Taking part in this major national study will help us to learn why some people have these late effects following infection, and to develop better strategies to help them return to full health. We are fortunate in Sheffield to have a world-leading imaging group, led by Professor Jim Wild, which will allow us to look in great depth at the impact of Covid-19 on the tissues and blood vessels of the lungs and heart.”

Professor Jim Wild, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said:

“Hopefully our techniques, made in Sheffield, for imaging the function of the lungs will help our clinical colleagues in understanding why some patients with Covid-19 suffer so badly with shortness of breath. With MRI scanning we can also follow up the effects of Covid-19 on the lungs and heart with time to monitor recovery and long term effects of the infection.”

The PHOSP-COVID study, awarded £8.4million jointly by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will bring together a national consortium of researchers and clinicians from across the UK (led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre), to share expertise to assess the impact of Covid-19 on patients’ health and their recovery.

For those who were hospitalised and have since been discharged, it is not yet clear what the medical, psychological and rehabilitation needs this group of patients will have going forward or what they will need in order to make as full a recovery as possible.

Chris Brightling, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester, Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, and chief investigator for the study, said:

“As we emerge from the first wave of the pandemic, we have new insights into the acute phase of this disease but very little information about patients’ long term needs.

“It is vitally important that we rapidly gather evidence on the longer term consequences of contracting severe Covid-19 so we can develop and test new treatment strategies for them and other people affected by future waves of the disease.”

Patients involved in the study will be assessed using techniques such as advanced imaging, data collection and analysis of blood and lung samples, creating a comprehensive picture of the impact Covid-19 has had on longer term health outcomes across the UK.

The PHOSP-COVID team will include experts in respiratory medicine, mental health, cardiovascular, dementia, and diet, exercise and nutrition. The data gathered will then develop trials of new strategies for clinical care, including personalised treatments for groups of patients based on the particular disease characteristics they show as a result of having Covid-19 to improve their long term health.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said:

“As well as the immediate health impacts of the virus it is also important to look at the longer term impacts on health, which may be significant.

“We have rightly focused on mortality, and what the UK can do straight away to protect lives but we should also look at how Covid-19 impacts on the health of people after they have recovered from the immediate disease.

“This UKRI and NIHR funded study is one of the first steps in doing this.”

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