UCC research suggests link between metabolism changes and ‘long Covid’

14 Mar 2022

From left: Principal investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland, Prof Liam O’Mahony; APC director Prof Paul Ross; and Cork University Hospital consultant in infectious diseases Dr Corinna Sadlier. Image: Gerard McCarthy

APC Microbiome researchers believe the findings could help in further investigations to explain why some people get long Covid and to develop potential treatments.

Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) investigating ‘long Covid’ have found a potential link between the immune system and impaired metabolism, which could help scientists understand the pathology of Covid-19 and its long-term consequences.

Long Covid is where patients experience long-term symptoms such as fatigue, memory issues and difficulty exercising, sometimes for months after the initial Covid-19 infection is resolved.

The serum of 20 patients with long Covid was investigated by researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre based at UCC.

In a study published in the international scientific journal Allergy, the researchers said that the levels of multiple biomarkers had been altered in these patients, even up to nine months after the initial Covid-19 infection.

Compared to the serum of healthy volunteers, these patients showed ongoing activation in their immune system, along with differences in molecules generated during metabolism.

The researchers believe the differences in metabolism – which included decreased serotonin levels – could help explain what causes long Covid symptoms such as fatigue and ‘brain fog’.

“This study provides further evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infection can impact immune and metabolic systems for a long time following elimination of the virus,” principal investigator Prof Liam O’Mahony said.

“These new findings provide us with definitive targets to be further examined in helping us better understand why some people get long Covid, and represent a first step in developing potential new targets for diagnosis and therapy.”

Last August, research from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland suggested that blood clotting could be the root cause of long Covid symptoms. These researchers found that clotting markers were elevated in patients with long Covid compared to those in a control group.

It is unclear how many people have experienced long Covid symptoms globally, though some experts estimate that 10pc of those who contract Covid-19 will develop long Covid symptoms.

APC Microbiome Ireland director Prof Paul Ross said: “This new APC research highlights the real burden that long Covid represents to the Irish population and highlights the importance of finding scientific solutions which can tackle the underlying mechanisms that are causing such diverse and debilitating symptoms.”

The study was first authored by Dr Corinna Sadlier, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cork University Hospital. Funding for the research was supported by SFI grants.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic