UHN's Dr. Angela Cheung is co-lead of the Long COVID Web network. The network spans biomedical, clinical, health services and population health research areas. The word "Web" signifies the flexibility, adaptability and strength of connections between partners, diverse patient populations, their families and society. (Graphic: UHN StRIDe Team)

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Federal Minister of Health, on Thursday announced a landmark investment for research into long COVID.

The $20-million investment will support the "Long COVID Web", a national team co-led by Dr. Angela Cheung, a Senior Scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI). The project will enable the team to advance the understanding of this condition, unlock new treatments and improve care for individuals living with long COVID.

"There has been a tremendous national response to the effort to form Long COVID Web," says Dr. Cheung, who co-leads the network along with Dr. Adeera Levin at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Piush Mandhane at the University of Alberta and Dr. Simon Décary at Université de Sherbrooke.

"We had nearly three hundred researchers, clinicians, and community partners from across Canada join in just a few weeks, demonstrating the commitment from many sectors and geographies, and the need to understand and better treat long COVID.

"A key strength of the project, in addition to breadth of collaborating institutions, is the broad scope of our patient partners," adds Dr. Cheung. “By including representation from indigenous populations, underserved communities, the elderly, adults and children, and individuals living with disability, we are ensuring that nobody is left behind."

For most people, the symptoms of COVID-19 are short-lived. However, some people experience symptoms long after the infection is over – a condition known in medical fields as the post-COVID-19 condition, and more commonly referred to as "long COVID."

More than 1.4 million Canadians have experienced long COVID, which can cause chronic tiredness, heart palpitations, shortness of breadth, digestive problems, joint pain and difficulty thinking.

These symptoms often negatively impact the daily lives of those affected, and there is an urgent need to better understand the condition, its prevalence, and how to treat and prevent it.

Also looking at 'how we need to adapt' to long-term consequences of the pandemic

Dr. Cheung has emerged as a leader in long COVID research in the wake of the pandemic. As well as a Senior Scientist at UHN's TGHRI and Schroeder Arthritis Institute, she is the KY and Betty Ho Chair in Integrative Medicine at University of Toronto and a professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. She also holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal and Postmenopausal Health.

Dr. Cheung is spearheading the Canada-wide RECLAIM clinical trial, which is testing potential therapies for people with long COVID. She also helped to establish the Canadian COVID-19 Prospective Cohort study (CanCOV), which is collecting data on long-term outcomes for COVID-19 patients.

For more on Dr. Cheung's research, listen to Season 3 Episode 10 of UHN's award-winning podcast Behind the Breakthrough. Her research is also featured in Episode 10 of Your Complex Brain, a podcast from UHN's Krembil Brain Institute.

"Canada's science community is well positioned to provide the government with the evidence and the expertise needed to address post-COVID condition," said Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada's Chief Science Advisor. "Thanks to the experts who contributed to our task force recommendations, we now have a roadmap, a network, and the support of government to take steps toward fully understanding this disease and helping to mitigate its effects on people and our society."

Dr. Brad Wouters, UHN's Executive Vice President, Science and Research, says "UHN is excited to take part and host the Long COVID Web.

"By purposely integrating research, care, and the unique perspectives of patients, this network is poised to understand the underlying biology of long COVID – insights that will be key to developing accurate diagnostic tools, treatments and rehabilitation approaches.

"The network is also looking at how we need to adapt – both as health care providers and as a society – so that we can better address the long-term consequences of the pandemic."

The funding, which will be administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is part of the government's continued response to address the health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, and not including this latest funding, CIHR has invested $414.8 million in research into COVID-19, of which $17.7 million has been targeted for Long COVID research.

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