News: Unprecedented patient involvement in long COVID research, NIH finds

CDI Strategies - Volume 16, Issue 55

Nearly one in five adults who are infected with COVID-19 go on to develop long COVID, according to leaders of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The long COVID studies currently underway by the organization were funded by Congress in 2021 to predict, diagnose, treat, and prevent long COVID. Early analyses of the data expected to be ready in the first half of 2023. Searching for patterns in more than 200,000 long COVID cases, which were identified in electronic health records, has already helped scientists as they seek to identify key risk factors for and common symptoms of the disease.

Early in the pandemic, scientists noted that type 2 diabetes was a risk factor for developing long COVID, Medscape Medical News reported. Now, newer research is showing people with long COVID may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as well. This data has helped pinpoint areas of focus for NIH clinical trials, which are using both human trials as well as animal and human blood and tissue samples to better study long COVID in their labs.

“I think we can see a pathway where we will get some insights into pathogenesis,” said Gary Gibbons, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and part of the NIH. More trials are expected to start over the next six months, but Gibbons says the research must continue with both urgency and a careful pace to ensure the findings can be trusted. “I think it's critically important that we get the right answer, not just the quickest answer,” he said.

Complicating this further is the mutation of the virus over time, which could potentially shift long COVID characteristics. “Somebody who was infected with the ancestral strain may look very different from somebody infected with Omicron,” said Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, acting director of the NIH.

Gibbons said the urgency of their research is propelled by suffering patients who are afflicted with the debilitating disorder, many of whom experience complex, overlapping clusters of symptoms that require more than traditional treatment approaches.

Editor’s note: To read Medscape Medical News’ coverage of this story, click here.

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