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New national study of long-term impacts of debilitating lung damage from Covid-19

Friday, 09 April 2021

Experts from the University of Nottingham are part of a new national study investigating the long-term effects of lung inflammation and scarring from Covid-19.

The study, launched with £2 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), aims to develop treatment strategies and prevent disability.

The University of Nottingham is one of three centres leading the MRI work in the study, using the facilities in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.

Professor Ian Hall

Many people recovering from Covid-19 suffer from long-term symptoms of lung damage, including breathlessness, coughing, fatigue and limited ability to exercise.

Covid-19 can lead to inflammation in the lungs due to the infection and the immune system’s reaction to it. The inflammation may improve over time, but in some people it persists.

In severe cases, the lungs may become scarred. The scarring causes stiffness in the lungs, which can make it difficult to breathe and get oxygen to the bloodstream, resulting in long-term breathlessness and difficulty managing daily tasks.

This inflammation and scarring of the lungs is called ‘interstitial lung disease’.

Now, this study, called the UK Interstitial Lung Disease Long-Covid19 (UKILD-Long Covid) study, will investigate whether post-Covid-19 lung damage will improve or worsen over time, how long it will last, and the best strategies for developing treatments.

Early evidence indicates that lung damage occurs in approximately 20% of patients discharged from hospital, but the effects on people who experience long-Covid in the community are currently unclear.

This study, led by researchers at Imperial College London, will bring together researchers and clinicians from 15 research centres** and will include patients already in COVID-19 studies, such as the Post-hospitalisation COVID-19 study.

Professor Ian Hall, Director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Nottingham, is leading the MRI work at Nottingham. He said: “Our work in Nottingham concentrates on using novel MRI techniques to assess the extent of lung disease in patients who have had Covid."

Developing the most effective imaging techniques to assess lung damage will be important to help understand the mechanisms leading to lung damage, and may also lead to better ways to predict long term outcomes and assess the response to treatment in this group of patients. It remains unclear how many patients who have had Covid are left with significant lung damage and this study will provide the answer to this important question.”
Professor Ian Hall

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “It is thanks to the pioneering work of our brilliant scientists and researchers that we now know so much more about Covid-19 than we did just one year ago – including the lasting effects it can have on patients.

“Bringing together some of the UK’s finest researchers, this new nationwide study will analyse the full impact of lung damage caused by the disease, helping to inform new treatments that could benefit patients across the world, as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI which funded the study, said: “This research is key to understanding how and why the virus causes some people to suffer long-term lung effects after Covid-19 infection. It will be an important tool in developing more effective treatments for patients.”

To understand the full spectrum of lung impacts, the study will include a range from patients, from those who have been hospitalised or placed on a ventilator to those in the community who had less severe Covid-19.

They hope to recruit approximately 250 people with symptoms suggestive of possible lung scarring, such as breathlessness or a persistent cough, to find out more about their long-term lung damage at three and 12 months after Covid-19 infection.

Cutting-edge xenon MRI scans will be performed in a subset of patients. These use a safe, inert gas which is inhaled, so the scan can measure the effectiveness of gas exchange inside the lungs.

Story credits

**The scientists are based at 15 institutions: Imperial College London, University of Nottingham, University of Leicester, University of Oxford, University of Southampton, The University of Manchester, University of Liverpool, Newcastle University, University of Leicester, University of Sheffield, University of Edinburgh, University College London, Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, Wythenshawe Hospital and Aintree University Hospitals.

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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