Project Team

Brent Harris MD, PhD, Director of Neuropathology and the Georgetown Brain Bank, Georgetown U/MedStar Health

Stephen Hewitt MD, PhD, Head, Experiment Pathology Lab NCI, NIH

Daniel Chertow, MD, MPH, Sen Investigator, Lab of Virology NIAID, NIH

Galam Khan, MD, Research Assistant Prof Neurology, Georgetown University

Project summary:

Project co-lead Dr. Brent Harris

A pilot study to develop the logistics for rapid autopsy of individuals who are being followed with long COVID in the Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia metropolitan area. Acquired tissue will be examined for SARS CoV-2 viral pathological changes using state-of-the-art molecular techniques. Analysis will be performed by researchers who published the first-ever autopsy study characterizing SARS-CoV-2 persistence throughout the body & brain.

Project background:

Autopsy studies have provided a great deal of information on how SARS-CoV-2 can impact the body over time. Key is that a wide range of tissue types can be acquired via autopsy, including tissue from the brain. If samples are rapidly preserved, viral RNA can be identified and potentially correlated with other inflammatory or immune abnormalities. This can shed light on the long COVID disease process across the human body. The project team are experts on post-COVID autopsy work. For example, in 2022 they published a seminal paper documenting SARS-CoV-2 persistence throughout the body and brain.

The current pilot autopsy program is coordinated by Dr. Brent Harris and team at Georgetown University. His team is working with well-established long Covid clinics at Johns Hopkins University Health Care System and MedStar Health (the two largest medical care systems in DC/Baltimore metropolitan areas) to develop materials describing the long COVID study. They are also meeting with providers in the clinics to make them aware of the program. A database is being developed and maintained with full medical records and pertinent information about vaccinations and COVID-19 infection histories for long COVID participants who register for the program.

SARS-CoV-2 protein expression in neurons in tissue acquired from the brain & spinal cord by members of the project team.

Molecular analysis of tissue will be performed at both Georgetown and  the NIH. Georgetown will focus on studying molecular signals of senescence in the central nervous system tissue. NIH will focus on detection and quantification of viral RNA, viral protein, and replication-competent virus in tissues.