A University of Oxford trial has launched to detect hidden lunch damage in patients suffering from ongoing breathlessness following their recovery from Covid-19. Breathlessness is a common long-term symptom suffered by those with ‘Long Covid’, a condition that is still not fully understood, but can impact sufferers for many weeks or even months after recuperating from Covid-19, even if they did not require treatment in hospital for the disease.
The study, led by Professor Fergus Gleeson from the Department of Oncology, with a team of researchers including DPAG’s Dr James Grist, is one of 15 being funded by a £20 million research drive by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
A new technique is enabling the team to detect previously invisible damage to the lungs, even when it does not show up on standard MRI or CT scans. Dr James Grist has been scanning and analysing the lungs of post-Covid patients at Churchill Hospital with hyperpolarised Xenon magnetic resonance imaging, which helped to uncover the extent of the damage that can be caused by the disease in otherwise healthy-looking lungs.
The new scans trace inhaled gas moving into and out of the lungs, and early work showed a dramatic decrease in the ability of the lungs to diffuse gas into the blood stream after COVID infection. With the new NIHR funding, Dr Grist will continue this work with patients who have confirmed Long Covid.
Dr Grist said “We hope that, with the visualisation of lung damage that is otherwise invisible to conventional imaging and physiological methods, we’ll be able to start trialling therapies to reverse the damage leading to breathlessness. Furthermore, this study has opened up the opportunity to detect invisible lung damage in patient with otherwise unexplained breathlessness - providing us new insights into lung physiology.”