CLS studies part of £18.5m research project to investigate long COVID

18 February 2021

Data collected from CLS’s four cohort studies will be used to help improve the understanding of the risk factors, symptoms and treatment of the long term effects of COVID-19, in a major new research project announced today.

Utilising information collected from more than 60,000 people who are taking part in 11 of the UK’s longitudinal studies – including the 1958 National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study, Next Steps and Millennium Cohort Study – the research project, led by Professor Nishi Chaturvedi of the MRC Unit of Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL (MRC LHA), has received £9.6m funding over three years to help to define long COVID and improve diagnosis.

It is one of four research projects forming part of an £18.5m programme of research, launched by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to tackle long COVID.

The project will take advantage of the rich, multidisciplinary data collected across study participants’ lives – on factors such as their physical and mental health and social background – to try to explain why some people get long COVID, the typical effects on a person’s health and ability to work, and the factors that affect recovery, to inform the treatments offered to patients.

The research team, which is based across 13 institutions, including CLS and MRC LHA, will be able to analyse, among other resources, data taken from the CLS led COVID-19 survey of five longitudinal studies, which has asked study participants to share their experiences of the pandemic on two occasions, with a third survey currently underway. The study will also use anonymised linked healthcare datasets from primary care records, all hospital admissions, community prescribing data, COVID-19 testing and death registrations.

From these studies, people reporting long COVID and comparator groups, will be asked to wear a wrist band measuring exercise ability, breathing, and heart rate. Participants will complete online questionnaires on mental health and cognitive function, and will also be invited to a clinic for non-invasive imaging to look at potential damage to vital organs, such as the brain, lungs and heart.

In addition, the research will involve qualitative work with people suffering from long COVID being asked to share their lived experience of the disease to inform guidance and information about the condition.

Findings will be shared with bodies involved in creating clinical guidelines for diagnosis, with government, and with the public and the scientific community.

Professor George Ploubidis, CLS director of research and co-investigator of the long COVID study, said: “The UK is in a unique position to investigate the potential risk factors, symptoms and long term effects of COVID-19, thanks to our nationally representative cohort studies which have been tracking multiple generations of people since birth.

“The reach of our longitudinal studies across the UK population is unsurpassed. Not only are we able to analyse data collected from participants according to age, ethnicity, country and region, we are able to examine information they’ve provided across their lives, on subjects such as their mental and physical health, social background, employment and family.

“From this information researchers will be able to examine how prior life experiences shape resilience or vulnerability to the effects of COVID-19. As a result, this will enable policymakers and practitioners to better direct resources to those sections of the population who are most at risk.”

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR, said: “Good research is absolutely pivotal in understanding and then treating any illness, to ease symptoms and ultimately improve lives.

“This research, jointly funded through the NIHR and UKRI, will increase our knowledge of how and why the virus causes some people to suffer long term effects following a COVID-19 infection -– and will be an important tool in developing more effective treatments for patients.”

Further information

Read more about National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) programme of research projects looking at the longer term effects of COVID-19 on the UKRI website.

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