Revolutionary technique helping to identify lung damage in COVID patients

Early findings from a “revolutionary” and “pioneering” technique show promising results for identifying lung damage in COVID patients.

The University of Sheffield and the University of Oxford are currently conducting collaborative research into the use of hyperpolarised xenon gas to identify the lasting effects of COVID-19 on the lungs. The study is the first of its kind in Europe, and will follow an initial group of 40 patients over six months.

Since the initial Coronavirus outbreak, a number of patients have reported suffering ongoing symptoms of what has been identified as ‘Long COVID.’  The most common issues recorded are fatigue, shortness of breath, and joint pain. Symptoms can persist for weeks or, in some cases, even months. The study seeks to investigate possible reasons as to why patients are still experiencing shortness of breath following a discharge from hospital.

According to the University of Sheffield, this technique is able to identify lung damage that may not be visible on standard MRI or CT scans. Hyperpolarised xenon gas is able to measure gas transfer in the lungs with imaging and identifies where damaged has occurred. According to results, all 40 patients taking part in the study have been found to have weakened lung function.

The study is funded by the National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI), and will be linked to the national clinical follow-up PHOSP-COVID. NCIMI’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Claire Bloomfield, stated, “It’s critical that we understand more about the long-term impact of COVID-19, to ensure patients can get the best possible help with their care.”

It is believed that the results from this study may help with the overall understanding of the prevalence of lung damage in COVID patients, as well as the speed of recovery from the virus.

Professor Fergus Gleeson, Consultant Radiologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford’s Head of Academic Radiology, said: “We may be getting an insight into why some patients have symptoms long after they have left hospital, and when other tests are normal. This may help us identify patients that may potentially benefit from treatment even after discharge, for example with steroids or other therapies.”