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CUHK researchers discover distinct gut microbial signatures for prediction, diagnosis and treatment of long COVID

HONG KONG, April 11, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Clinician researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) The School of Medicine (CU Medicine) has for the first time identified distinct gut microbiome profiles associated with post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, more commonly known as “long COVID”. These distinct gut microbial signatures can be used to predict the risk of developing long COVID and diagnose long COVID in patients with persistent symptoms after acute infection. This is the first study in the world to demonstrate that the gut microbiota is a key determinant of long COVID. The results of the study have been published in the international journal Intestine.

(PRNewsfoto/The Chinese University of Hong Kong Medical School)

In a pilot study, the team also showed that a novel gut microbiome immunity formula (SIM01) developed by CUHK can prevent the development of long COVID. CU Medicine is currently conducting a randomized clinical trial using the SIM01 formula to modulate the gut microbiota of patients to prevent and treat long COVID.

For the first time, clinical researchers at CU Medicine have identified distinct gut microbiome profiles associated with long COVID.  These distinct gut microbial signatures can be used to predict the risk of developing long COVID and diagnose long COVID in patients with persistent symptoms after acute infection.  (Left to right) Professor Siew NG, Associate Director of the Gut Microbiota Research Centre;  Professor Francis CHAN, Dean of Medicine and Director of the Gut Microbiota Center

For the first time, clinical researchers at CU Medicine have identified distinct gut microbiome profiles associated with long COVID. These distinct gut microbial signatures can be used to predict the risk of developing long COVID and diagnose long COVID in patients with persistent symptoms after acute infection. (Left to right) Professor Siew NG, Associate Director of the Gut Microbiota Research Centre; Professor Francis CHAN, Dean of Medicine and Director of the Gut Microbiota Center

What is the “long COVID”?

Long COVID is defined as the presence of persistent symptoms, such as fatigue, poor memory, difficulty sleeping or breathing, and hair loss, for four weeks or more after clearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus . According to a CU Medicine study, about 80% of patients had long COVID six months after recovering from COVID-19.

Patients with long COVID have a distinct gut microbiome composition

The diagnosis of long COVID is often delayed because the symptoms are nonspecific and there is no specific test to explain the symptoms of long COVID. The development of non-invasive microbiome-based profiling will be a useful tool for the rapid detection of long COVID.

Based on a metagenomic analysis of serial stool samples from over 100 patients, the team identified a distinct gut microbiome profile for long COVID. Different long COVID subtypes were found to have specific gut microbiome profile patterns. For example, a lack of immune-boosting “friendly” bacteria is strongly associated with persistent respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath, while an abundance of certain pathogens is linked to fatigue and neuropsychiatric symptoms. , including sleep disturbances, poor memory and loss of taste. Using a machine learning model with over 1,200 clinical samples, the team can accurately predict and detect the long-COVID-associated microbiome with over 90% sensitivity and specificity.

Detection of a distinct gut microbiome profile associated with long COVID has three major clinical applications, namely, a prediction tool for long COVID with 90% accuracy; as a diagnostic tool for suspected long COVID with a sensitivity and specificity of approximately 90%; and as a treatment guide for long COVIDs.

The Gut Microbiome Test for Long COVID is an innovative technology from Microbiota I-Center (MagIC) funded by InnoHK, an initiative of the Hong Kong SAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Commission. CUHK Medical Center will be the first in hong kong propose this innovative test.

Over 90% of patients who received SIM01 did not develop long COVID

Treating long COVID is difficult given that until recently there was no definitive clinical test for diagnosis, and there is no standard treatment yet. A recent pilot study conducted by the research team showed that in patients who received CUHK’s microbiome immunity formula SIM01 for four weeks, more than 90% of them did not develop COVID long until at one year follow-up.

Professor Francis KL CHANDean of Medicine and Director of the Gut Microbiota Research Center at CU Medicine, said, “Since the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, more than 500 million people worldwide have been infected. Our results showed that almost 80% of our patients suffer from long COVID. Our discovery not only offers for the first time a scientific explanation for long COVID, but also provides an effective tool for the prediction, diagnosis and treatment of this global health problem.

Professor Siew Chien NGAssociate Director of the Gut Microbiota Research Center at CU Medicine, added, “Our study has shown that microbiome-based profiling is potentially useful for risk assessment, rapid diagnosis, and targeted treatment of long COVID. These new findings also indicate that in addition to accelerating recovery after acute COVID-19 infection, a microbiome immunity formula (SIM01) is potentially effective in preventing long COVID.

CU Medicine is conducting a large-scale study to assess the effectiveness of SIM01 during an extended period of COVID

CU Medicine has initiated a large-scale randomized clinical trial to study the effectiveness of SIM01 in the prevention and treatment of long COVID. Professor Martin Chi Sang WONG, professor in the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at CU Medicine, said, “We are currently enrolling recovered COVID-19 patients who have persistent symptoms in a clinical trial that aims to reduce long COVID by modulating their intestinal microbiota. This study is funded by the Medical and Health Research Fund of the Food and Health Bureau of the Hong Kong SAR Government.

For those who are interested, please register on https://bit.ly/3r5KEgK or send a WhatsApp message “To join the RECOVERY study” to +852 5641 7082.

SOURCE The Faculty of Medicine of La Chinese University of Hong Kong