Dr. Gutiérrez-Martínez

McCance Center Clinical Research Coordinator Leidys Gutiérrez-Martínez, MD, MSc and a team of colleagues from the McCance Center and the departments of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Medicine presented a poster on MGH Clinical Research Day, October 14, that describes the effects of COVID-19 infection on the brain in patients seen at Mass General.

Dr. Martinez and the team were awarded the Clinical and Outcome Research Award out of 253 abstracts submitted. The poster, “Neuropsychiatric Findings in Post-acute Sequelae of Sars-cov-2 Infection,” was recognized this month by Dr. Maurizio Fava, Mass General Psychiatrist-In-Chief and Director, Division of Clinical Research of the Mass General Research Institute.

We sat down with Leidys to talk a little about her, her team, and her research.

Congratulations, Leidys! What an honor! Can you tell us a little about your team’s work?

This research work is the result of a collaborative effort between McCance and the team of clinicians in the COVID-19 survivors clinic led by Dr. Zeina Chemali.

The poster summarizes the main findings of a project aiming to describe neuropsychiatric symptoms among patients with confirmed or presumptive SARS-CoV-2 infection, who received care as inpatients or outpatients at the COVID-19 brain health clinic at Mass General.

We found that the most frequent complaints among these patients were fatigue, new-onset headaches, anxiety and sleep problems, in particular insomnia. In addition, a prior diagnosis of migraine or another headache disorder was associated with increased odds of “brain fog,” which was also a common complaint found to be highly correlated with executive dysfunction, in particular memory, attention and concentration-related difficulties.

You’ve only recently joined the McCance Center team – tell us a little bit about yourself and your career? 

I was born and raised in Colombia. I graduated as a physician (MD) from Universidad de los Andes and worked as a general practitioner serving diverse populations at the Southwest Region of the country. During medical school, I developed a strong interest in epidemiology research with a special focus on lifestyle medicine strategies for chronic disease prevention.

In an effort to continue developing this interest I joined the Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab at Iowa State University as a graduate student and worked on various epidemiologic studies aiming to assess the impact of different types of physical activity on cardiometabolic health outcomes.

Lifestyle medicine in particular physical activity has been extensively studied and implemented in preventive cardiology recommendations, however, there is more work to do in preventive neurology especially considering the needs of diverse populations. 

I’ve found the McCance Center leaders to be inspiring. Their focus on the unique concept of brain care aligns with my career direction and personal passion. I am very interested in understanding how social determinants of health shape brain health and brain care and how we could develop and implement evidence-based lifestyle interventions that can tackle the main barriers that underserve populations face to access them. 

What do you find exciting about this line of research? And is the research continuing?

This research is part of new field of study that is evolving dynamically in response to the global health circumstances and there is so much yet to be explored. At the same time, the emerging findings provide some answers and hypotheses that open doors for new research questions that start to intersect with different academic disciplines beyond clinical medicine.

This research is part of an ongoing cohort enrolling COVID-19 survivors, their caregivers and/or legally authorized representatives. They will be followed-up for 12 months to assess their cognitive, emotional and physical recovery. Our team at the McCance center will be looking to better understand longitudinal changes in brain health as well as brain health needs that will guide preventive or therapeutic interventions and recommendations among those with post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

In the long term, our team envisions that this research will inform the workflow at the clinical setting aiming to optimize the standard of care delivered to this patient population in a joint effort with the clinicians’ team.