A new Rutgers research will look into how COVID-19 affects people in a variety of cognitive areas, such as memory loss, “brain fog,” and dementia.
Dr. William T. Hu, associate professor and chief of cognitive neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Institute of Medicine, said, “Many people who recover from mild or moderate COVID-19 notice slowed thinking or memory loss, and this motivated us to use our experience studying cognitive issues related to Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and HIV to investigate this phenomenon.”
Dr. Hu, a prominent cognitive neurologist and neuroscientist, is leading the effort at Rutgers to characterize cognitive damage following mild-to-moderate COVID-19.
“We’ve discovered that neuroinflammation is a common theme in many brain disorders,” he explained, “but not all neuroinflammation is the same.” “We devised a plan to investigate the protein and cellular alterations that contribute to the development and alleviation of symptoms of brain fog. In addition, we’re utilizing cutting-edge RNA sequencing technologies to figure out how inflammatory cells’misbehave’ to create memory and cognitive problems in long-term COVID patients.”
To discover probable causes of brain fog, Dr. Hu’s team will examine each person’s cognition, mood, and sleep patterns, as well as comparing their brain MRI findings to molecular markers of neuroinflammation. They’ll look at microglial cells, which are key immune cells in the brain, from people who have had COVID-19 to see if they can predict whether post-COVID cognitive impairment would continue (PCCI).
Dr. Hu explained that this will enable researchers to start generating new hypotheses about why these cells may malfunction in COVID-19 and PCCI, what the shared inflammatory mechanisms are between PCCI and Alzheimer’s disease, and whether FDA-approved drugs can be repurposed to prevent the onset of PCCI or improve its outcomes.
Dr. Hu recently received a $100,000 grant from TMCity, a private foundation based in Irvine, Calif., to help fund the project, which will also look into whether COVID-19 infection speeds up the clinical manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease in people aged 50 and up who would otherwise not show symptoms until their 60s and 70s.
The research expands on Dr. Hu’s and his team’s work with the Post-COVID Recovery Program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which is directed by Dr. Sabiha Hussain, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care.
Behavioral health, cardiology, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, physical, speech and occupational rehabilitation, nutritional services, pulmonary/sleep therapy, and financial assistance are among the services provided by the program, which is a joint initiative of the medical school and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Approximately half of those who have been seen in the program have experienced brain fog as a result of their COVID treatment. Memory loss, brain fog, new perplexity, headaches, numbness, and various neurological symptoms are among the symptoms of individuals who tested positive for neurocognitive problems, according to Dr. Hussain.
“The neurocognitive repercussions of post-COVID syndrome impair 62 percent of our patients’ everyday lives,” she added.
Dr. Hussain, who is also the medical school’s head of interventional bronchology and the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program, continued, “The vaccination may have helped slightly with the brain fog, but what I see from a clinical viewpoint is much more chronic short-term memory loss.”
She emphasized that the clinic is accessible to anybody who has had COVID, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. “What we’re finding is that individuals may not have respiratory symptoms or difficulties that would cause them to say, ‘Hey, I need to see a doctor,’ but they do have other underlying symptoms like a lot of tiredness, neurocognitive disorders, depression, and anxiety that they don’t know why it’s occurring. Dr. Hussain stated, “We test for all of those things, which helps with overall quality of life.”