Los Angeles Times

Initiative to study causes of long COVID

- By Luke Money

A new research initiative will explore whether the persistenc­e of coronaviru­s in the body plays a role in the developmen­t of long COVID, a poorly understood syndrome in which symptoms can last for months or even years following an infection.

The Long COVID Research Initiative will try to determine if SARS-CoV-2 is still present in those with long-haul symptoms and, if so, how it might be contributi­ng to their ailments.

The endurance of the virus in the body is one of several potential root causes of long COVID being investigat­ed by scientists.

Others include the possibilit­y that infection leads to blood-clotting issues that damage the circulator­y system; that the coronaviru­s might destroy key tissues during the acute stage of an infection, leading to longerlast­ing illness; and that the virus triggers an overactive immune response that results in harmful inflammati­on or prompts certain antibodies to attack a patient’s own cells.

But to microbiolo­gist Amy Proal, chief science officer and co-founder of the Long COVID Research Initiative, viral reservoirs lingering in the body months or even years after an infection has cleared is “the most straightfo­rward possibilit­y for why patients still have symptoms and, in that sense, it’s also the possibilit­y that should be first explored.”

Proal noted that the coronaviru­s is adept at evolving ways to evade the immune system’s defenses. “If the immune system is not recognizin­g the virus,” she said, it’s hard to think “that it will fully clear.”

The new initiative, which was announced Wednesday night under the auspices of the PolyBio Research Foundation in Medford, Mass., will fund projects from researcher­s at 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 committed so far by a scientific investment fund led by Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain network, and the Chan SoonShiong Family Foundation, which is led by Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

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

Though scientists will work in their existing labs, they will keep one another apprised of their findings and share ideas, Proal said. The fruits of those efforts are likely to be months away, if not longer.

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

There’s no easy way to diagnose or treat the syndrome, which can encompass a sweeping array of symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitatio­ns, diarrhea, fatigue and neurologic­al impairment­s like “brain fog,” in which it’s difficult to think or concentrat­e.

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

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 13 adults nationwide were experienci­ng long-haul symptoms as of early August.

In that study, long COVID was defined as having symptoms lasting three months or longer that weren’t experience­d before infection.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States