PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The pediatric division of Rhode Island’s largest hospital will play a role in helping to learn more about the long-term effects COVID-19 can have on children.
Hasbro Children’s Hospital announced Tuesday that a team of its interdisciplinary researchers will join NYU Langone Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, Northeastern University, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in a recently announced multimillion-dollar initiative to study the impact of long COVID in infants, children and adolescents.
The National Institutes of Health launched the REsearching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative to learn why some people have prolonged symptoms — referred to as long COVID — or may also develop new or returning symptoms after testing positive for the virus.
Recently, doctors and pandemic experts at Brown University also launched a long COVID initiative to evaluate emerging policies and develop recommendations for health system leaders and employers, plus federal, and state and local health policy makers.
Dr. Sean Deoni, an associate professor of diagnostic imaging and pediatrics at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, will represent Hasbro in leading the LEGACI study, which will focus on people under the age of 25.
The study, involving about 1,200 total participants, will take place over a four-year period, aiming to enroll 400-500 individuals at Hasbro within the next eight to 12 months.
Specifically, the LEGACI study will:
- Enroll patients during the acute and post-acute phases of the SARS-CoV-2 infection
- Use mobile health technologies like smartphone apps and wearable devices to gather data in real time
- Characterize the incidence and prevalence of long-term effects from SARS- CoV-2 infection in infants, children and adolescents, including the range of symptoms, underlying causes, risk factors and outcomes
- Address potential strategies for treatment and prevention
“While children appear to be resilient against COVID-19 and are much less likely to have severe illness or death, we don’t know how COVID-19 affects their long-term health and development, and it’s something we need to answer quickly,” Dr. Deoni said in a news release.
“Effects of COVID could have life-long impact, so it is important to understand these effects and identify potential opportunities to minimize them,” he added. “The overall goal, really, is to understand both what COVID-19 looked like in children, what prolonged symptoms look like in children, and how those symptoms progress over the next two, three and four years.”
From there, Deoni says doctors hope to learn if those prolonged symptoms set up kids with increased health risks over time.
Deoni says this could range from developmental, behavioral, or intellectual disorders to “the usual physical effects of lung function, cardiovascular function, immune system development, etc.”
Deoni said Rhode Island is an ideal location for the study, as it has “one of the highest” COVID-19 rates among pediatric patients per capita in the nation. He said there’s been about 600 pediatric patients that have been diagnosed with active COVID-19 infection since last year.
A spokesperson from Lifespan added those cases involve patients up to age 25 at Hasbro Children’s and some surrounding pediatric centers, and were confirmed by either a positive antibody test, positive RT-PCR test, or medical diagnosis based on symptoms.
“So, that last one brings up the numbers since not many kiddos were getting antibody or PCR tests at the beginning,” Deoni added in an email to 12 News.
Additionally, Deoni says Rhode Island’s small size made the state attractive for the study, which will be using mobile labs to reach families.
“It’s easy to get around in terms of us taking a lap to almost all areas of the state,” Deoni said.
Deoni also said the state’s “wide swath of demographics” made Rhode Island an ideal spot.
“We have a number of both ethnicities, racial background, et cetera, that we can begin to look at within a pretty small radius geographically,” he added.
Research from NYU Langone suggests up to 14% of children who contracted COVID-19 continue to deal with lingering symptoms. The most common include pain, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, fever, chronic cough and sleep problems.
Dr. Moriah Thomason at NYU Langone Health said continued research on COVID-19 in children will help to “identify factors that predict better or worse outcomes,” and help “develop better ways to care for and counsel families.”
Doctors leading the study say they will also target minority families, who they say have “traditionally been excluded from research.”
“And we really want to include them, and bring them into this research,” Deoni said.
The team plans to address this by using a series of mobile laboratories, complete with neuroimaging facilities, to bring the research directly to involved families front doors.
“We will build local networks of people affected by long COVID and representatives from advocacy organizations to help build links to affected families and communiques, and to quickly disseminate information back to them,” explained Dr. Gabard-Durnam, director of PINE Lab and an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern.
“We’ve actually built the world’s first fully mobile low field MRI system in an RV, so inside of our mobile labs,” Deoni added.
He says the mobile labs (one in a van, the other in an RV) will first drive out to places like grocery stores and malls for recruitment for testing, before going to individual homes.