We’ve been through over 18 months of a worldwide pandemic. In the meantime, scientists have been working hard to gather new data regarding the impact of the virus on the human body and brain. The discoveries are raising serious questions regarding the long-term impacts of the sickness on biological processes like aging.
Extra evidence came in, revealing how the virus could affect both the body and brain for many months or longer after infection.
In August of this year, a large-scale, preliminary study looked into the brain changes in people who dealt with COVID-19, and the results captivated the neuroscience community in particular.
In the analysis, researchers relied on an existing database known as the UK Biobank. It contains brain imagery from over 45,000 people in the United Kingdom, all going back to seven years ago.
The information stored in the database is extremely useful because it worked as a baseline, starting point for comparing the pre-pandemic situation with the current status.
The researchers studied the data and then brought back patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 for extra brain scans.
They compared COVID-19 patients with people who never contracted the virus, taking into account parameters like age, sex, baseline test date plus study location, and common risk factors for disease like health variables and socioeconomic status. Those measures were taken to make sure that the scientists were comparing similar individuals, thus achieving unbiased results.
The team discovered marked differences in gray matter, which contains the cell bodies of neurons, which have to deal with processing information in the brain, between healthy individuals and covid-struck ones.
Curiously, the thickness of the gray matter tissue in brain regions called the frontal, and temporal lobes were reduced in COVID-affected patients, with obvious differences from the group that never contracted the virus.
In normal, healthy patients, it’s natural to see some shifts in gray matter volume or thickness after some time passes, but the modifications were considerably more severe in those who’ve been infected with COVID-19.
Curiously, when the researchers separated those who experienced severe episodes of the sickness from those who had milder forms of COVID, the results were very similar.
To put it simply, those who’ve been infected by the virus manifested a loss of brain volume even when the disease was in a mild form, not requiring hospitalization.
Ultimately, researchers also analyzed modifications in the cognitive capabilities of patients and discovered that those who dealt with the sickness processed information slower than those who stayed safe from it.
Though it’s hard to put a label on the research right away, as it hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, it certainly raised some serious questions to the scientific community.