Science

Doctor receives prestigious award for work into causes of long Covid

Dr Merete Long received the award for her work in understanding why people develop the long form of the infection.

A university doctor has received a prominent award for her research into the causes of long Covid.

Dr Merete Long was named one of the best young scientists in her field for her work in understanding why some people continue to suffer after being infected with Covid-19.

She was awarded the British Association of Lung Research Early Career Investigator Award at the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting after delivering a presentation on her research into neutrophils, which are white blood cells that act as the immune system’s first line of defence, and the role they play in Covid-19 infection.

The postdoctoral researcher’s study showed changes within neutrophils were linked to delayed recovery and highlighted neutrophils as potential therapeutic targets in long Covid.

She said: “It’s a real honour to win this award. I was really proud to present this work and can’t really believe that I was selected for one of the prizes. It’s a huge credit to the whole team in Dundee.

“Neutrophils are typically associated with bacterial infections – they target and destroy bacteria, protecting your body from further harm and infection.

“However, we knew that neutrophils were quite diverse and we did everything that we possibly could to characterise what they might be doing in Covid-19 to explore if they were helping or harming.

“Quite early on we found that they were doing something, changing, in Covid-19, and tended to be associated with more severe disease. We found that these cells have an ongoing role in non-recovered patients.

“This work can help us understand why patients might be suffering from long Covid. We hope that it will give us further ideas about what might be going wrong in those patients and how we can treat them.”

Dr Long joined the university in 2019 and works in the laboratory of Professor James Chalmers, one of the UK’s foremost lung experts. She was originally going to carry out research into bronchiectasis but the need to better understand Covid-19 took priority.

She added: “Covid-19 really changed things for scientific research. Viral infections hadn’t received that scale of research attention before and there hasn’t really been a significant advance in how we treat people that come into hospital with severe respiratory infections for a long time.

“Being able to study a viral infection in such a comprehensive way is incredibly beneficial. We can apply these ideas to other kinds of viral infections that were known before Covid was even heard of.”