US researchers get $1.6 mn grant to confirm link between Covid & dementia

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New York, Aug 27 (IANS) As the world witnesses a rise in brain-related disorders in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania State University has been awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US to dig deeper and find the link between the two.

The grant will support research into whether Covid-19 contributes to the development of cognitive decline that may be part of the chain of events leading to dementia.

“We have a unique opportunity to study whether Covid infection contributes to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Xuemei Huang, distinguished professor of neurology, pharmacology, neurosurgery, radiology and kinesiology at the Penn State’s College of Medicine.

Parkinson’s disease and related disorders often lead to dementia at the end, and “we hope to gain a better understanding of whether Covid-19 infection affects the process of neuro-cognitive decline in our research participants,” Huang said in a statement.

Epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that just under one third of all Covid cases have occurred in individuals aged 50 years and older.

This same group also is at increased risk for either having or developing a neurodegenerative disease.

The Covid patients often report neurological symptoms like memory issues, “brain fog” and loss of smell and taste — with some symptoms lasting months after diagnosis.

Some research also suggests that these patients are at higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia following their acute infection.

These and other reports have led to scientific speculation that Covid-19 infections may be contributing to premature cognitive decline, said the researchers.

Huang will lead a multidisciplinary team to gather additional information and biological samples from participants in their past and ongoing studies.

The study will leverage the resources from a multi-year, $3.8 million project that aims to identify biological signs (biomarkers) of Parkinson’s disease and related disorders through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and molecules in biological samples including blood, skin and cerebral spinal fluid.

In the same way that loss of smell has signalled Covid-19 infection for some individuals, some scientists theorise that loss of smell also signals the beginning of neurodegenerative processes that lead to both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

This may come from a person’s continued exposure to viruses and environmental toxicants that enter via the olfactory system (nose and nasal passages).

“We’re still learning about the long-term effects of the pandemic and the effects on those who became ill,” Huang said.

“This research will increase our understanding of whether or not COVID-19 infection contributes to the development or progression of neurodegenerative diseases,” the researcher added.

–IANS

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