With a projected $9.2 million in first-year funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of Arizona are leading a statewide study on long-term effects of COVID-19. Additional funding in subsequent years of the four-year project is dependent on enrollment. Vignesh Subbian, BIO5 member and assistant professor of biomedical engineering and systems and industrial engineering, is the informatics lead on the project. He will provide oversight and coordination for the Arizona site to manage and streamline study data and workflows.
The University of Arizona is one of more than 30 research teams across the country participating in the NIH Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) initiative, which seeks to understand, treat and prevent post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). One form of PASC, long COVID, refers to symptoms that persist for weeks or months after the acute infection.
“Up to 30% of the people who experienced coronavirus infections may have a hard time recovering, and many of them have not fully recovered up to 90 days later,” said Janko Nikolich-Žugich MD, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Immunobiology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and member of the BIO5 Institute. “What we’re trying to do, along with a consortium of sites across the country, is to figure out why these people are getting sick and how to help them.”
Nikolich-Žugich is leading the Arizona Post-SARS-CoV-2 Cohort Consortium (AZP3C), a six-institution partnership supported by the RECOVER Clinical Science Core at New York University Langone Health.
Recovery from COVID-19 varies from person to person. Many people make a full recovery, but others continue to experience symptoms related to the infection or develop new symptoms over time. Symptoms among persons who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 range from mild to incapacitating, may persist after recovery from the acute phase of the disease, and can adversely affect overall quality of life. PASC symptoms may involve multiple organs and systems, and can include pain, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” chronic cough, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression and fever.
“The depth, scope, and pathway of data collection will be different for different study participants, which makes the informatics infrastructure very complex,” said Subbian, who is also the associate director for health data science and informatics at the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Statistics. “I want to ensure that the research coordinators and staff who are going to be on the front line working with participants have all the necessary tools and technology to efficiently and meaningfully engage with the Arizonans who are interested in participating in this study.”
In addition to managing the data gathered from study participants, Subbian is also in charge of data about the program itself, studying patterns to determine what’s working and what strategies could enhance the project’s community and research impact.
“This consortium is a testament to the leadership, network capabilities, breadth of knowledge and caliber of researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD. “One of the biggest challenges about the ongoing global health pandemic is the fact that there is still so much we do not know about the disease and the long-term effects. This funding makes it possible for us to study large segments of the population affected by prolonged symptoms of COVID-19, which will hopefully lead to increasing our understanding of conditions that lead to long COVID and, ultimately, help us find solutions.”
Arizona researchers will build on successful partnerships, statewide networks and research infrastructures such as the CoVHORT, AZ CEAL and AZ HEROES studies underway at UArizona Health Sciences, as well as the university’s antibody testing initiative.
All participants will undergo clinical evaluations, answer questionnaires, take detailed exams and undergo diagnostic procedures. The data and samples will become part of the larger RECOVER database of tens of thousands of individuals nationwide.
“Projects like this one really do require a village, with researchers contributing expertise in not only areas like infectious diseases, immunology, and pulmonary medicine, but also data science and engineering,” said David W. Hahn, Craig M. Berge Dean of the College of Engineering. “Vignesh’s expertise in applying systems and software engineering methods to health care applications makes him an excellent choice to lead the informatics portion of this project, and we are proud to count him as an engineering faculty member.”
Read the full version of this release at University of Arizona Health Sciences.