COVID Research

Cliff Rosen, MD at MHIR lab

Cliff Rosen, MD, Senior Scientist at MHIR

COVID Research Continues with PROMIS

In the spring of 2023 MaineHealth Institute for Research (MHIR) was awarded $802,753 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore a theorized cause of long COVID. The Pathobiology in RECOVER (Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery) 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. MaineHealth has been a RECOVER study site since November 2021 and completed successful enrollment earlier this year.

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, post-exertional malaise, brain fog, shortness of breath and sleep problems.

Finding the Keys to Long COVID Treatment

“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 and MHIR colleagues and co-Principal Investigators Ivette Emery, PhD, and Sergey Ryzhov, MD, PhD, are working 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. Researchers are testing for the virus as well as certain proteins that the virus may be activating, causing long COVID symptoms.

MHIR is analyzing fat tissue biopsies from participants in collaboration with investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the University of Oregon. Together, scientists will determine if tissue samples 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. The study is expected to take one year.

“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.”

Ivette Emery, PhD

Ivette Emery, PhD

Sergey Ryzhov, MD

Sergey Ryzhov, MD, PhD