Funding boost to help measure improvement in long COVID

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, Imperial College London and King’s College London have received funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to support new research into long COVID.

University of Liverpool researchers are assisting with one of the 15 UK-based studies backed by £19.6 million in government funding through the NIHR to better understand long COVID, improve diagnosis and find new treatments for the condition.

Long COVID

Long COVID can have serious and debilitating long term effects for thousands of people across the UK, which can make daily life extremely challenging

Recent findings suggest that although many people make a full recovery following COVID-19, a significant proportion of people continue to experience chronic symptoms for months. This is commonly referred to as long COVID, or post-COVID-19 syndrome.

The condition is still poorly understood and is associated with a myriad of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness and problems with memory and concentration.

Measuring improvement

The researchers aim to develop a unified approach to measuring improvement in long COVID patients, bringing together perspectives from researchers, clinicians, patients and other key stakeholders.

Currently, treatment trials for long COVID use different methods to measure improvement among participants, making it difficult to compare results across studies. Developing an agreed framework will help to overcome this problem, while also aiding clinicians in measuring the aspects of long COVID that matter the most to patients and other healthcare professionals. To do this, the project team will create Core Outcome Sets (known as a ‘COS’) which specify what measurements should be taken in all patients. The researchers will build on the existing ‘COMET’ (Core Outcome Measures in Effectiveness Trials) framework to assemble global experts from relevant areas of research and medicine, as well as patients and other stakeholders, to compare perspectives and agree on an approach.

The NIHR-funded study will primarily focus on determining how to measure these core outcomes and which assessment methods should be used. The team will then share the agreed COS with key groups including healthcare professionals, researchers, long COVID patients and the public.

Achieving consensus on the design of research studies

Paula Williamson, Professor of Medical Statistics at the University of Liverpool, added: “We will be using robust methodology to achieve this, as recommended by the COMET Initiative, using surveys to achieve consensus between clinicians, researchers, patients, carers and other key stakeholders on how to measure this complex disorder.”

Dr Timothy Nicholson, Clinical Lecturer at King’s College London, said: “During this project, we will be developing a Core Outcome Set (COS) for long COVID. This is an important step in deciding best how to measure improvement in this disorder and optimise the ability to combine and compare data across research studies.”

Imperial’s Dr Munblit, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Institute, said: “We have brought together experts from across the UK to work with international colleagues from the World Health Organisation and large international COVID studies, such as the ISARIC consortium, to achieve consensus on the design of research studies addressing this disorder with a major global impact.”

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