New $100K project will utilize brain MRIs to study COVID brain fog and dementia

Rutgers University researchers are launching a new study to better understand the link between COVID-19 and cognitive problems such as brain fog and dementia.

Renowned neurologist and neuroscientist William T. Hu, MD, PhD, is leading the effort and will compare brain MRI findings with biochemical signatures of neuroinflammation in patients who’ve suffered mild to moderate infection. TMCity, a private foundation based in Irvine, California, contributed $100,000 to support the project.

“We developed a roadmap to study the protein and cellular changes involved in worsening—as well as alleviating—symptoms of brain fog,” Hu, chief of cognitive neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said Sept. 2. “In addition, we are using the latest RNA sequencing technology to understand how inflammatory cells ‘misbehave’ to cause memory/thinking dysfunction in long COVID.”

For each participant, Hu and colleagues will assess cognition, mood and sleep patterns to spot potential causes of brain fog. They will also analyze microglial cells—key immune cells in the brain—to understand if abnormalities can be used to predict long-COVID cognitive impairment.

The investigation will also study the coronavirus’ ability to accelerate signs of Alzheimer’s disease in people 50 and older, who would likely not have experienced symptoms until their 60s and 70s.

Hu and his team have been studying these neurological symptoms as part of their Post-COVID Recovery Program. The clinic sees 15-17 patients each Monday, and about half struggle with brain fog issues following their battle with the virus.

“What we’re finding is that they may not have respiratory symptoms or issues that would alert them to say, ‘hey, I need to go see a physician,’ but they have other underlying symptoms like a lot of fatigue, neurocognitive issues, and depression and anxiety that they don’t understand exactly why it is happening,” said Sabiha Hussain, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who runs the program.

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