Untangling the brain complications of COVID-19

Liverpool and King’s College London to lead new national study into neurological impact of COVID-19

Graphic of nerve cells coloured blue

A grant worth over two million pounds has been awarded to clinical researchers from the University of Liverpool and King’s College London to investigate the neurological and neuropsychiatric effects of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Clinical Neuroscience Study (COVID-CNS) will look at 800 UK patients who were admitted to hospital with COVID-19and had neurological or neuropsychiatric complications, to understand how these problems occur and develop strategies to prevent and treat them.

Project co-lead, Dr Benedict Michael, Senior Clinician Scientist Fellow at the University of Liverpool and Consultant Neurologist at The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, said: “COVID-19 patients frequently suffer brain complications during the infection and are left with brain injuries which can have lifelong consequences. Similar problems have been seen in previous pandemics, including Spanish influenza over 100 years ago, but how and why this occurs is remain poorly understood.

“Without understanding how the virus causes these problems, we are not able to know which existing medications to use or to develop new medications to treat these neurological effects. We’re going to look at cases in detail, exploring clinical data, and laboratory and imaging markers of brain inflammation and injury.”

This project is also supported by and is an integral part of the National Institute of Health Research BioResource (https://bioresource.nihr.ac.uk/) which provides research infrastructure to speed up clinical research and clinical trials. Patients of the COVID-CNS study will be consenting to the NIHR BioResource and will be re-contactable to participate in further research into COVID.

The project involves more than a dozen research centres from all four nations of the UK and is being led by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with King’s College London.

Project co-lead Professor Gerome Breen, Professor of Psychiatric Genetics at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, said: “These brain complications of severe COVID-19 infection could cause long term problems for patients and their families. We want to compare patients with these complications to similarly ill hospitalised patients who did not have these problems. We will monitor their outcomes and integrate social and environmental risk factors into our analyses alongside all the biology information we will measure.

“This project brings together scientists and clinicians in all 4 UK nations, across neurology, psychiatry, genetics, epidemiology and immunology. By working together, we aim to rapidly improve our understanding and design better treatments.”

The £2.84 million funding is being provided by UK Research and Innovation and the Department of Health and Social Care.

For more information on the study please visit https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/neurosciences-research-unit/research/covid-cns-study/.

First published 21 October 2020