NIH awards MaineHealth $802K to study possible cause of Long COVID

April 2023

The PROMIS study will examine whether SARS-CoV2 virus remains trapped in the fat tissue of patients with Long COVID.

PORTLAND, Maine – The MaineHealth Institute for Research (MHIR) has been awarded $802,753 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore a theorized cause of Long COVID. The Pathobiology in RECOVER of Metabolic and Immune Systems (PROMIS) study will examine whether the virus that causes COVID remains hidden in the fat tissue of patients with Long COVID, stressing their immune systems to the point of potential failure.

The study is part of the nationwide RECOVER Initiative that seeks to understand, prevent and find treatments for Long COVID. Long COVID is a term used to describe prolonged or new symptoms after the acute phase of infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some common symptoms of the condition include fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath and sleep problems.

“Part of the challenge with treating Long COVID is that we still don’t know what causes it,” said Cliff Rosen, MD, Senior Scientist at MHIR and the study’s Principal Investigator. “If we can prove that the virus persists in the fat tissue of patients with Long COVID, we can start targeting treatments that impact that part of the body.”

Dr. Rosen, along with MHIR colleagues and co-Principal Investigators Ivette Emery, PhD, and Sergey Ryzhov, MD, PhD, will work with colleagues at the University of Kentucky and Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University to examine the blood of 60 current RECOVER study participants in Maine, Kentucky and Louisiana. Scientists will test for the virus as well as certain proteins that the virus may be activating, causing Long COVID symptoms.

MHIR will also be taking fat tissue biopsies from participants in collaboration with investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Stanford University and the University of Oregon. Together, scientists will analyze tissue samples to see if they carry the virus, and whether they are creating substances that can lead the immune system to cause fatigue, brain fog and other Long COVID symptoms.

“We know people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity are at higher risk for Long COVID,” Dr. Ryzhov said. “This study may bring us closer to understanding the biology behind why that is, and may be a first step towards preventing Long COVID, too.”

The study is expected to take one year.

This research was, in part, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Agreement OT2HL161847-01 The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the NIH.