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Researchers in Leicester launch study to untangle organ damage after COVID-19


A new study investigating the extent to which COVID-19 damages organs has opened in Leicester this week.

Led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University, the COSMIC study will be using MRI scans of participants, along with health records and blood tests, to compare the organs of people who have never had COVID-19 to those who have previously been infected. The research team hope the findings will help to better understand the extent to which organ damage is caused by COVID-19 and what is caused by other underlying health conditions. 

COVID-19 is largely thought of as a respiratory disease which primarily affects the lungs. During the pandemic, Urgent Public Health (UPH) studies such as C-MORE and COVID-HEART recruited over 900 people who have had COVID-19, including 115 in Leicester, to investigate the impact on other organs.  Studies like these have shown the virus can damage other organs, including the heart, brain, liver and kidneys. Researchers now want to know how COVID-19 causes this damage, with the aim to find potential treatments.

Health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes or heart disease are known risk factors for COVID-19. This means many people who have had COVID-19 also have one or more of these conditions. Many of these conditions can also cause organ damage so it can be difficult to tell what damage has been caused by COVID-19, and what would have been caused by these other conditions in the same timeframe. The COSMIC study team hope to begin untangling this issue. 

Dr Ranjit Arnold, who is leading the COSMIC study in Leicester, said: “We know that how poorly someone becomes during and after COVID-19 infection depends on many factors, including their age, socioeconomic background, and whether they have other health conditions.  

“Teasing out how much organ damage is due to the virus itself rather than these other underlying health conditions is key to improving our understanding of how COVID-19 can affect the organs. To do this we will ask a large group of people who haven’t had COVID-19 but may have similar underlying health conditions to participants we’ve recruited in trials so far to make comparisons.”

Participants on the COSMIC trial will undergo an MRI scan on their heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and brain, which will be used to compare to those who have had COVID-19. 

Dr Arnold said: “MRI scans are perfect for this sort of research. Using our state-of-the-art scanner based at Glenfield Hospital we can investigate the condition of people’s organs without any sort of invasive procedure. The scanner helps us accurately assess the structure and function of the major organs. By using these scans we will be able to investigate how frequently damage occurs, and further down the line this will give us information regarding injury patterns, and whether a COVID-19 has a specific damage pattern.”

For more information about the COSMIC study email: cardiologyresearch@uhl-tr.nhs.uk or call 0116 2583385.


Sian Thanangadan, Communications and Engagement Officer -  sian.thanangadan@uhl-tr.nhs.uk, 07971592030