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Long COVID research reveals new targets for potential treatment

Published: 20 March 2023

NIHR researchers have shown for the first time that a dysfunctional immune response is linked to specific symptoms of long COVID. The findings could help in the development of treatments for those living with the disease. 


An estimated 1.8 million people in the UK are experiencing long COVID. Debilitating symptoms can persist for months after COVID-19 infection, and include extreme tiredness and shortness of breath.

The NIHR funds research into the biological causes of long COVID. Once researchers understand more they can begin to develop effective treatments. 

Migration of immune cells

Monocytes are a type of immune cell made in the bone marrow. They travel through the blood to the lungs where they surround and kill the virus. Researchers at 

have discovered abnormal migration of these cells corresponds to shortness of breath.

Study design 

The study was supported by the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility at Wythenshawe Hospital. The researchers analysed blood samples from

  • 71 hospitalised patients with acute COVID-19
  • 142 patients attending clinics after discharge from COVID-19
  • healthy blood samples from frontline health workers

Patients filled in questionnaires which assessed their symptoms. 

A link between monocyte function and different long COVID symptoms

The researchers examined the monocyte migratory signatures in patients with acute disease. Long COVID patients with shortness of breath had unique monocyte profiles compared to 

  • Long COVID patients with ongoing fatigue
  • Patients who experienced no symptoms

Researchers now understand more about the immune system in patients with long COVID. The study could provide an important first step on the road to possible treatments.

Professor of Inflammatory Disease, Tracy Hussell, Programme Lead in the Next Generation Phenotyping and Diagnostics Theme at NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, said: “This study is a prime example of the ‘one Manchester’ approach that provides seamless integration between clinicians and scientists under the umbrella of our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and the generosity of our patient population.”

The study was led by Dr Elizabeth Mann Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellow at the University of Manchester’s Lydia Becker Institute and published on 16 March 2023 in the European Respiratory Journal.


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