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Nationwide study of 'Long COVID' to launch at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Institutes in the Mountain West received an NIH grant to study patient samples for genetic markers of long COVID.

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Written by Wendy Meyer on February 7, 2022

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly $470 million to build a national study population of diverse research volunteers and support large-scale studies on the long-term effects of COVID-19. The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) is playing a major role in the initiative called REsearching COVID to Enhance Recovery or RECOVER.

Many of us know someone who has experienced the long-term effects of COVID-19. Common symptoms include pain, headaches, fatigue, “brain fog,” shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, fever, chronic cough and sleep problems. This condition has come to be known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). “Long COVID” is a form of PASC. Some believe it may become the next national health crisis. 

In collaboration with the University of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare, University of New Mexico and Denver Health and Hospitals, the CCTSI team will study adults from diverse backgrounds in the Mountain West region, including the UCHealth patient population. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding this collaborative team with an award of $7.15 million. The principal investigators leading the Colorado portion of the grant are Kristine Erlandson, MD and Ronald Sokol, MD from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Connie Price, MD and Ed Gardner, MD from Denver Health. More than 30 research teams across the country will study and share data in real time, which will provide the scale we need to get real answers to help alleviate suffering as fast as possible.

Dr. Erlandson, an associate professor of infectious disease at CU School of Medicine, a physician with UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and the Colorado Study Protocol Chair, explains there will be three groups of individuals from diverse backgrounds they will recruit for the study: 1) those who are newly diagnosed with COVID-19 in a hospital or an outpatient setting; 2) those who already previously had COVID-19 and do or do not have symptoms; as well as 3) those who never had COVID-19.

“We will be studying people newly diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 to see who goes on to develop Long COVID over time and who recovers,” says Erlandson. “We want to understand some of the basic biology that influences the development of this condition and how people recover from COVID-19.”

The research award will help develop a Colorado cohort of approximately 370 adults that will be followed over four years. The study will be strictly observational and aims to better understand the characteristics and mechanisms of people who go on to develop this condition and for those who completely recover from COVID. Most of the study will take place in the CCTSI’s Adult Clinical Translational Research Center (CTRC) at CU Anschutz. Erlandson says the depth and breadth of the CCTSI’s research infrastructure make this project possible.

“We are eager to play a role in this important and rigorous research,” says CCTSI Director Ronald Sokol, MD. “We want to help determine the cause of this often-debilitating condition, find methods to help those who suffer and ultimately learn how to prevent it in the first place.”

In addition to the participation of groups of people through RECOVER Cohort sites, CU Anschutz researchers Melissa Haendel, PhD and Tellen Bennett, MD, MS have received a separate RECOVER award to help lead a national program using electronic health record (EHR) data to research long-COVID symptoms, risk factors and treatments. The project will use the National COVID Cohort Collaborative’s (N3C) EHR repository.

These RECOVER cohort and EHR studies, as part of a nationwide consortium, will collect biological, clinical and environmental data from thousands of PASC patients; use smartphone apps and wearable devices to gather real-world data in real time, and analyze patient data from millions of electronic records.

Taken all together, RECOVER is expected to provide insights over the coming months into many important questions, including the incidence and prevalence of extended effects from SARS-CoV-2 infection, the range of symptoms, underlying causes, risk factors, outcomes and potential strategies for treatment and prevention.

“We, the research community, acknowledge that Long COVID can be devastating for patients and caregivers, and we are dedicated to developing treatments to improve patients’ quality of life,” Erlandson says. 

To learn more about the RECOVER initiative and how to participate in the Colorado study, email recover@ucdenver.edu.