The IUCN study aims to reveal the long-term neurocognitive consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Debra Gutierrez of Vaughn Orme, Texas, near San Antonio, has been an active person her whole life. An ophthalmology technologist at UT Health San Antonio works in a clinic that sees dozens of patients a day. But things changed for her in the summer of 2020, the early days of the pandemic before COVID-19 vaccines were available.

“My diagnosis of COVID was July 3, 2020,” Gutierrez, 49, said. “The main problem I had was severe migraines along with loss of smell, dizzy spells, body aches and blurry vision in my right eye.”

Although she did not need to be hospitalized and returned to work a month later, her recovery was just beginning. In fact, she still doesn’t feel like she felt it before the injury.

“I have bouts of confusion and not knowing where I am, including while driving,” she said. “The longest episode took about 15 minutes. I had to grab my phone to give me directions home, because I had no idea where I was.”

Gutierrez keeps a diary of her symptoms, and in May 2022 she noticed she was starting to stutter. “I’ve never stuttered before,” she said.

The fog in her thinking is continuous and never ending. She said, “I tend to take a break even when I’m at work, and I’ve been doing this kind of work for 26 years now. I forgot what I’m doing.”

Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the Jo R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at Utah Health San Antonio, sees Gutierrez in his clinic. He prescribed medication to calm her when seizures occurred.

De Erausquin works with UT Health San Antonio’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disorders, where one of the projects he leads is the Alzheimer’s Association Consortium on Chronic Neuropsychiatric Consequences of SARS-CoV-2 Infection. This is a research initiative and clinical teams from around the world. Scientific leaders, including the Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 25 countries, are working alongside technical guidance from the World Health Organization to track the long-term effect of SARS-CoV-2 (also known as the novel coronavirus, COVID-19) in the brain. .

Debra Gutierrez is among the participants in South Texas who will be assessed at UT Health San Antonio upon study entry and at specific time points. Neuropsychological tests that assess aspects of learning and memory will be performed, and study volunteers will undergo brain imaging on the world’s most powerful MRI systems.

There is no available evidence to support the notion that cognitive impairment after SARS-CoV-2 infection is a form of dementia, whether it is Alzheimer’s disease, dementia-related illness, or another cause. The Alzheimer’s Association Multinational Consortium initiative will provide data to answer this question as clearly as possible in a diverse group of participants globally.”

Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, Jo R and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio

The constant loss of smell is linked to brain changes. Dr. de Erauskine said the olfactory bulb, which contains brain cells that react to smell, is primarily where the COVID-19 virus enters the nervous system. Based on this information, the consortium aims to understand the effects that SARS-CoV-2 has on the brain.

In a peer-reviewed paper published on September 22 in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: translational research and clinical interventions. The consortium authors note, “The scientific community and medicine should attempt to understand the molecular and/or systemic factors that link COVID-19 to neurological disease, both in the short and long term.”

The article provides a roadmap for how those who wish to use the methodology developed by the large global research community will achieve this ambitious project across multiple continents, languages, and cultures.

Dr. de Ierosquin said that coordination strategies and flexible study designs offer the potential to include large samples of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Sharing information, data, and knowledge will enable future studies to obtain data from these diverse groups for years to come.

Debra Gutierrez, who still works full time, has a supportive husband, six sons, two adult sons, and six grandchildren. Her experience and the experiences of thousands around the world will paint a fuller picture of what happens in the brain after COVID. Understanding how to treat the cognitive problems caused by viral infections can improve outcomes in the future.

“I’d run marathons before, and I’d run outside several days a week,” Gutierrez said. “I have a lot of hope because I’ve been a very active person.”

Funding for the consortium is provided in part by the Alzheimer’s Association.

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Journal reference:

From Erasquin, GA, et al. (2022) Chronic neuropsychiatric consequences of SARS-CoV-2: protocol and methods from the Alzheimer’s Association World Federation. Transformational research for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and clinical interventions. doi.org/10.1002/trc2.12348.