Understanding the role of the immune system in fatigue

22 July 2020
Catherine with her daughter resting in bed.

Versus Arthritis and the The Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research are jointly funding research by King’s College London to better understand the role of the immune system in post-viral fatigue experienced by people who have had COVID-19.

The work is being led by Professor Frances Williams at the Department of Twin research and Professor Carmine M. Pariante at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurology.

Understanding fatigue is vital to develop future treatments

We know that fatigue has a huge impact on people’s quality of life, but it’s not known what causes it, or why it can affect some people more than others.

One of the challenges in understanding the role of the immune system in people who have developed fatigue as part of their condition, is that researchers do not normally know what the system was like before they developed the condition (and fatigue).

This means it’s hard to look for differences that might cause fatigue or make people more prone to developing it.

Our ambition is to learn from the insights of this research to help improve the management of fatigue for people with arthritis.

What can we learn from COVID-19 about fatigue?

Fatigue is being seen as a common side effect of COVID-19 and some people are experiencing this symptom for a prolonged period after having the virus. Due to the widespread nature of this virus, there’s now an opportunity to be able to get a large amount of data from people who have been infected.

Researchers will be able to see any changes that have happened in these people following COVID-19 infection, and see if there are any indicators of who is more prone to developing fatigue. As well as developing an understanding of how a person’s immune function can affect the severity and persistence of fatigue.

How researchers will learn from data

Over the coming 18 months, researchers will collect data from groups of people who have already had their immune systems studied, including twins from the TwinsUK study.

Cases of the virus and controls will be identified from people using the King’s COVID-19 Symptom Tracker App which is already being used by people in the TwinsUK study. The app collects information on self-reported and tested COVID-19 cases as well as basic demographics and health information.

The researchers will analyse existing and follow up data from these people to better understand the factors which could mean some people are more likely to experience fatigue.

Achieving more together

Our partnership with The Kennedy Trust is an excellent example of how working with others can maximise the impact of research funding and allow us to achieve more than we could do on our own.

We’ll keep you posted on progress and updates, find out more about our research.

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