Press release

Covid study aims to identify those at risk of airway damage

Published on 13 April 2022

Learning more about the legacies of Covid infection is “critical” if society is to successfully adapt to living with the virus, a University of Dundee expert has warned.

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Dr Amelia Shoemark says that there is an urgent need to understand how Covid is weakening the defences of many individuals, months after initially contracting the illness.

Dr Shoemark, from the University’s School of Medicine, was speaking at the start of a new, three-year study that will focus on how Covid can cause long-term damage to a person’s airways, exposing the lungs to re-infection.

“While society is adjusting to a new way of life, we cannot forget that Covid-19 is still here and will remain prominent for a very long time to come,” she said.

"That is why it is critical we continue to develop our understanding of this virus and its potential ramifications on public health.

“We have recently shown how the cells in the airways can still be affected over a year after Covid-19 infection.  This new research will allow us to identify who is at increased risk of airway damage and identify which treatments reduce this risk.”

University experts have been studying Covid-19 extensively throughout the pandemic.

Upon entering the body through the nose, the virus is known to damage the airway cells and cilia, tiny hair-like structures that usually sweep inhaled bacteria and viruses out of the airways. Dundee research has discovered that these cells have not recovered in 90% of people up to a year following Covid infection, potentially making the lungs more vulnerable to further infection.

Dr Shoemark’s study will look at why the cells and cilia are not recovering post-Covid and investigate the longer-term consequences of this damage.

“We believe the ongoing damage may be due to long-term inflammation following Covid,” added Dr Shoemark.

“We will look at nose and airway cells from people who had Covid in the first wave and those infected by the new Omicron variant and compare them with cells from people who have not been infected. We will compare the amount of inflammation, how cells cope with inflammation and the way cilia grow and function.

“The second part of this project will follow a group of people 3-5 years after their initial Covid infection to see if the cells are still damaged and if there are further consequences of the damage. This will establish the longer-term consequences of Covid damage to airway cells and help us understand who is at risk of developing this airway damage.”

Dr Shoemark’s project is the latest study to have been funded by an award from the University’s Coronavirus Research Fundraising Campaign. Funded by public donations, it was established at the start of the pandemic to support Dundee researchers in their efforts in unlocking the secrets of Covid-19. More about the campaign and the projects it has funded can be found online.

Enquiries

Jonathan Watson

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489

j.s.watson@dundee.ac.uk