UK COVID-19 study reveals ‘hidden’ lung damage

Lung experts said the new testing technique, if successful in detecting lung damage, “would make a huge difference to COVID-19 patients.” (Shutterstock)
Lung experts said the new testing technique, if successful in detecting lung damage, “would make a huge difference to COVID-19 patients.” (Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 December 2020

UK COVID-19 study reveals ‘hidden’ lung damage

UK COVID-19 study reveals ‘hidden’ lung damage
  • Professor: ‘I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen’
  • New scanning technique detected damage that traditional methods did not

LONDON: COVID-19 could cause lung abnormalities still traceable in patients three months after infection, new research suggests.

Oxford University in the UK studied 10 patients using a scanning technique to detect changes left hidden during standard health scans.

The new method involves MRI scans that use xenon gas to generate a clear picture of lung damage.

Lung experts said the new testing technique, if successful in detecting lung damage, “would make a huge difference to COVID-19 patients.”

The xenon method involves patients inhaling the gas during an MRI scan. Prof. Fergus Gleeson, who leads the study, used the new method on 10 patients aged 19-69.

The results showed that eight patients suffered from shortness of breath and tiredness three months after COVID-19 infection, despite none of them receiving intensive care or ventilation, and conventional health scans finding no lung damage.

But the new scans revealed signs of lung damage in eight patients by exposing areas where air did not flow easily into the blood.

Gleeson is now looking to expand the study by trialing up to 100 people who were not admitted to hospital and did not suffer serious symptoms. The goal is to discover whether lung damage occurs, and if so, its extent and duration.

“I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen,” Gleeson said.

If the trial reveals that lung damage occurs across a wide age group and those with minor symptoms, “it would move the goalposts,” he added.

The lung damage revealed by the new scans could be a factor behind “long COVID,” where people fall ill for months following infection, he said.

The xenon scanning technique was developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK, led by Prof. James Wild.

“In other fibrotic lung diseases we have shown the methods to be very sensitive to this impairment and we hope the work can help understand COVID-19 lung disease,” Wild said.

Dr. Shelley Hayles, who worked on the study, said: “Up to 10 percent of those who have had COVID-19 might have some form of lung damage which is leading to prolonged symptoms.

“When medical staff tell patients that they don’t know what’s wrong with them and they don’t know how to sort the symptoms out, it’s very stressful. With most patients, even if the news isn’t great, they want the diagnosis.”


Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try
A view of Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit, with a rocket underneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, during test launch of its high-altitude launch system for satellites from Mojave, California, U.S. January 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 January 2021

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try
  • The rocket’s upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit and then deployed the nine CubeSats

LOS ANGELES: Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.
A 70-foot-long (21.34-meter-long) LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.
The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving US universities.
The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands.
“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers.”
The rocket’s upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit and then deployed the nine CubeSats.
The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.
Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.
Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.
Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.
Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.
The rocket was released and ignited but only briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting. The lost payload was only a test satellite.
The company later said an investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber.
Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to carry passengers on suborbital hops in which they will experience the sensations and sights of spaceflight.
Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial operations this year in southern New Mexico.