Brain health is essential to the health span. When brain health (neurological and mental health) becomes impaired, we lose our ability to pay attention, solve problems, communicate, be resilient in the face of stress and care for ourselves, our loved ones and others. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global brain health has only just begun to be felt.
COVID-19 victims are at high risk for impaired brain health and wellbeing.
The novel coronavirus appears to have a direct impact on the brain. In COVID-19 severe enough to require admission to the hospital, the ICU and mechanical ventilation, risks to the brain are substantial. These risks include the virus’s direct impact on the cells of the brain and the impact on the brain of the exuberant virus-triggered inflammatory response as well as the effects of prolonged stays in an ICU in a medically induced coma deprived of family contact. There is even some evidence that people who have had COVID-19 may also be at risk for chronic neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's.
Despite these risks, there are currently very limited data on COVID-19 and brain health. Without these data, we cannot discover the treatments that might protect brain health in COVID-19, or help COVID-19 patients recover their brain health.
To make matters even more concerning, COVID-19 critical illness is having a disproportionate impact on communities already affected deeply by disparities in health care and whose health care needs are understudied. For many of them, English is a second language or not spoken at all. This adds even more urgency. The impact of loss of brain health is even more devastating when combined with the effects of poverty and poor access to health care.
Our Research Goals
The Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health has assembled a multidisciplinary team of world-class investigators to conduct a comprehensive study of the impact of COVID-19 on brain health.
The McCance Center’s study team includes neurologists, psychiatrists, pulmonary physicians, nurses, and laboratory investigators who will collect data on COVID-19 patients in the hospital and once they have been discharged. They will perform brain scanning such as MRI and blood testing for genetics, along with a comprehensive assessment of blood markers. They track COVID-19 patients as they recover, assessing how well they can resume their lives, the challenges they face and the deficits in memory, concentration or language they may have.
In order to make discoveries as rapidly as possible, the McCance Center team has joined a global research consortium devoted to uncovering the effects of COVID-19 on the brain. Working within this large coordinated effort will ensure that we discover life-improving treatments as rapidly as possible.