Barrow lands $10M ARPA grant to study COVID-19 cognitive symptoms

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Friday, July 28, 2023 - 3:20pm

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Many long COVID-19 sufferers describe cognitive impairments not unlike dementia, despite being far younger than the typical age on onset for ailments like Alzheimer’s disease.

Though the symptoms sometimes relent, in more alarming cases, patients find then progressing.

“And they say, well, in the beginning, it didn't seem very unusual, but it seems to be getting actually worse,” said principal investigator Rita Sattler, a professor in Barrow Neurological Institute’s Department of Translational Neuroscience. “We’re not feeling the same that we did before, especially in regards to maybe memorizing things and their short term memory, long term memory.”

Barrow Neurological Institute
Rita Sattler, MSc, Ph.D. is a professor of translational neuroscience at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Recently, the Arizona governor’s office awarded Barrow $10 million to study possible differences and similarities between those symptoms and Alzheimer’s.

The funding comes through the American Rescue Plan Act, which supports efforts nationally to blunt the effects of COVID-19.

“The patients that we would enroll in these research studies are patients that had COVID and complain about these cognitive changes at least 12 weeks after they had been diagnosed with COVID,” said Sattler.

She added the research will give doctors, patients and caregivers a better idea of what they’re dealing with.

“Whether it's an early change that looks like early stages of Alzheimer's disease, or whether it's something new that we have never seen before,” she said.

Barrow researchers will analyze brain imaging data, including MRIs and PET scans, for signs of inflammatory responses, brain shrinkage and activity liked to cell death.

They will also analyze blood and cerebrospinal fluid for indications of Alzheimer’s.

“Often we can see these molecular changes or biomarkers before we actually see symptomatic changes in patients,” said Sattler. “So it's for us almost an early diagnostic biomarker.”

Sattler said brain imaging and blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples will reveal whether changes experienced by long CVOID suffered resemble Alzheimer's disease.

“And maybe we have an early form of Alzheimer's due to the infection with COVID? Or is it potentially a very different form of dementia that shows different molecular and cellular changes?” she said.

The team is now in the process of setting up the website and contact info for the open enrollment study.

“They can always come to the clinic, and we can discuss this with them and walk them through and find out whether or not they're eligible to participate in this study,” said Sattler.

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