Cookies

Like most websites The Ophthalmologist uses cookies. In order to deliver a personalized, responsive service and to improve the site, we remember and store information about how you use it. Learn more.
Subspecialties COVID-19, Neuro-ophthalmology, Imaging & Diagnostics, Basic & Translational Research

The Long Game

One of the concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the longer lasting effects of the disease – also known as “long COVID” – affecting at least 10 percent of those infected (1). Whereas immediate concerns center on the respiratory tract, there have been examples of longer-lasting neurological manifestations (2). But how does the virus affect the eyes – and how can these windows to the central nervous system help identify and monitor long COVID?

CCM could be used to objectively identify people with and without long COVID

Using corneal confocal microscopy (CCM), researchers have identified that long COVID patients exhibit both corneal nerve fiber loss and increased surrounding dendritic cells (3). Lead researcher Rayaz Malik, Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar and Consultant at the UK’s Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, explains how this finding could help diagnose the condition. “Currently, there is no rapid objective test to quantify underlying pathology, but CCM could be used to objectively identify people with and without long COVID.” Malik highlights that identification and tracking of long COVID is difficult: “It is currently ill-defined, with UK guidelines suggesting that any of over 29 nebulous symptoms may be present.”

Targeting small nerve fiber regeneration may be a therapeutic target for long COVID

The damage that long COVID causes to the corneal nerve fiber layer presents an opportunity to understand the disease pathology better, as Malik explains, “The presence of increased dendritic cells suggests an immune etiology for long COVID.” This improved understanding creates scope for developing therapeutics. “Targeting small nerve fiber regeneration may be a therapeutic target for long COVID,” says Malik. “This paves the way for therapies that reduce immune response and regenerate nerves.”

The next steps for building on these findings are clear. “We intend to expand the numbers of patients and introduce follow up assessments of long COVID evolution to see if there is recovery and to assess the effectiveness of available therapies,” says Malik. So will an eye test become standard aftercare for long COVID, and will it lead to treatments for the condition’s neurological effects? That remains to be seen – but Malik and his team are optimistic.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Ophthalmologist and its sponsors.

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

  1. T Greenhalgh et al., BMJ, 370, m3026 (2020). PMID: 32784198.
  2. CH Sudre et al., Nat Med, 27, 626 (2021). PMID: 33692530.
  3. G Bitirgen et al., Br J Ophthalmol, 319450 (2021). PMID: 34312122.
About the Author
Geoffrey Potjewyd

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

The lion’s share of my PhD was spent in the lab, and though I mostly enjoyed it (mostly), what I particularly liked was the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in research. Communicating science to a wider audience allows me to scratch that itch without working all week only to find my stem cell culture has given up the ghost on the Friday (I’m not bitter). Fortunately for me, it turns out writing is actually fun – so by working for Texere I get to do it every day, whilst still being an active member of the clinical and research community.

Product Profiles

Access our product directory to see the latest products and services from our industry partners

Here
Most Popular
Register to The Ophthalmologist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Ophthalmologist magazine

Register