European Commission funds research to tackle long-term COVID-19 health impact

European Commission POINT project team

At the beginning of this year, the POINT project of the European Commission started. Project seeks to develop innovative strategies for the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases that arise as complications during the post-acute phase of COVID-19. Researchers from the Institute of Genomics and Institute of Biomedice and Translational Medicine of the University of Tartu are also participating in the project.

The POINT project, a research initiative addressing the long-term health consequences of COVID-19, was launched on 1 January 2024. Designed to focus on the post-acute phase of the disease, which occurs four months or more after the infection, the project seeks to develop innovative strategies for the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases that arise as complications during this phase.

The POINT working group includes Pärt Peterson, Professor of Molecular Immunology, Kai Kisand, Professor of Cellular Immunology, and Lili Milani, Professor of Epi- and Pharmacogenomics and head of the Estonian Biobank.

Despite the acute phase of COVID-19 being the primary focus of global healthcare systems, evidence suggests that the post-acute phase poses a significant risk for the emergence of non-communicable diseases affecting pulmonary, cardiovascular, and renal systems. With over 183 million reported cases in the EU and up to 70% of patients experiencing reduced organ function post-infection, there is a critical need to address these long-term impacts. The POINT project aims to mitigate the socio-economic costs associated with these health challenges.

“It is commonly believed that once you stop displaying the primary symptoms of an infectious disease, you are healthy and expected to promptly resume your job and societal duties with the same vigour as before falling ill” says POINT Coordinator, Claus Desler, from the Copenhagen University. “However, the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled a different reality. We now understand that the effects of this disease can persist for many months beyond the acute phase, impacting not only immediate health but also worsening the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases. This realisation underscores the need for a more comprehensive approach to managing the aftermath of COVID-19 and other severe infectious diseases in general. With POINT we will give a better understanding of the post-acute phase of COVID-19 and develop tools and guidelines that will help minimise risk of long-term consequences following COVID-19 and other severe infections”.

"It is important for these endeavours to gain traction and advance scientific understanding," says Chiara Palazzetti, Project Manager Officer from Fondazione ICONS. "We will therefore support the project in sharing its results and we will engage with stakeholders such as physicians and general practitioners. The aim is to get the healthcare community to adopt the procedures and guidelines on a large scale for better patient outcomes."

According to Pärt Peterson, it is important to understand the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic may have affected the occurrence of other chronic diseases. "At the University of Tartu, we rely on the data of the Estonian Biobank to understand whether the occurrence of chronic diseases has changed and, if so, what factors may have contributed to it."

The consortium will access extensive cohorts and biobanks, encompassing data from over 6 million Europeans, to drive their research. Among other things, the data of the Estonian Biobank will also be analyzed. This collective effort is poised to deliver a transformative impact on how post-COVID health challenges are understood and managed.


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