Skip to Content

The University of Pittsburgh is Part of a National Effort to Advance Long COVID Treatments

November 1, 2023

View the original story on the University of Pittsburgh's website.

The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC will expand care for people with long COVID, thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grants, announced last month, are the first of their kind. The department awarded nine organizations funding of up to $1 million per year for the next five years to study science-based best practices to treat long COVID, an often-debilitating multisymptom condition that can affect a patient long after a COVID-19 infection. In particular, the grants focus on underserved, rural, vulnerable and minority populations that are disproportionately impacted by the disease.

Pitt earned the maximum funding, which will be administered through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

“These nine grants have strong potential to serve as a roadmap for developing improved care models for primary care and specialty clinics serving populations disproportionately impacted by the effects of long COVID,” said AHRQ Director Robert Otto Valdez.

The UPMC Post-COVID Recovery Clinic plans to use the grant to partner with UPMC Family Medicine Academic Clinic Practice to establish the Pitt Improving Access to Culturally Relevant Long COVID Care and Treatment (IMPACCT) Program. The program will teach the next generation of community providers long COVID care — especially family practice doctors and trainees in family medicine — and improve access to primary and specialty care for long COVID patients from underserved and rural populations.

Pitt’s Black Equity Coalition (BEC), a Black-led group of physicians and experts, will provide input on culturally relevant care and social determinants of health to ensure an equitable approach.

“From a BEC perspective, most of our operations have been around grants. This is one of the first partnerships with clinical research,” said Tracey Conti, chair of the Department of Family Medicine and a leader of the BEC.

“Anytime we can take practices and implement them to a broader portion of the population, we're excited to be a part of that. And especially when we’re thinking about how we improve our own knowledge so that we can deliver better care, and that we do that in a culturally competent way to ensure that health equity is held up, is wonderful for us.”

Alison Morris, MD, a Pitt School of Medicine professor and one of three principal investigators on the project, said the UPMC post-COVID clinic has treated at least 1,200 patients, but “one of the challenges is that long COVID is not very well defined.”

“We’ve started some research around clusters of symptoms, like exercise intolerance, cardiopulmonary issues, brain fog and cognitive symptoms,” she added.

Fellow co-PI and Pitt Med Professor Frank Sciurba, MD, said this grant is especially important because of its focus on “reaching people in areas that have been underserved.” The third investigator, School of Public Health Professor Howard Degenholtz, will lead the evaluation component of the project, monitoring patient outcomes as well as the success of its overall implementation.

The team is already working on other COVID-19 research through the National Institutes of Health as well. Sciurba said, “Hopefully we can link the projects and offer patients the state-of-the-art trials.”

“This is representative of the collaborative environment that exists at the University of Pittsburgh,” he added. “The ability to build collaborations across disciplines really sets us apart.”