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A team of our neuroimaging researchers will lead this study, which has received a grant from the University of Oxford's COVID-19 Research Response Fund.

MRI scanner from the control room

COVID-19 adversely affects the brain. Around 36 per cent of hospitalised patients show symptoms ranging from loss of sense of smell, to strokes, and seizures. Concerns are growing that COVID-19 may cause long-term harmful neurological effects including cognitive impairment, mental health disorders, and chronic breathing difficulties. This may arise from the direct viral invasion of the brain, or autoimmune responses to the infection, or indirect effects of severe systemic illness.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a team led by Associate Professor Kyle Pattinson will quantify brain abnormalities associated with COVID-19 infection. Their aim is to collect proof-of-concept data that will leverage funding for further multi-centre research collaborations. The eventual outcome will be brain markers to direct individualised treatments improving both short- and long-term outcomes from COVID-19.

The team will undertake two observational studies: an acute study in hospitalised patients and a follow-up study, using high-resolution brain-stem MRI, performed 3-6 months later, after patients have been discharged from hospital. In this way, the researchers will be able to characterise the brain structural, functional, and cerebrovascular effects of COVID-19 infection, establish quantitative relationships between clinical/bedside measures of COVID-19 and neuroimaging measures, and provide preliminary data sets for future discovery of novel biomarkers.

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