COVID-19 Research at APILab


COVID-19 infection can result in dramatic and damaging effects to the respiratory system, including:

  • Viral pneumonia affecting terminal airways and alveoli
  • Destruction of crcuial alveolar cells
  • Whole-lung inflammation
  • Failed gas exchange
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Total respiratory failure

In survivors of severe disease, CT imaging shows strong evidence of persistent abnormalities and damage even after recovery, which may have long-term consequenses both for survivors themselves and for the health-care system. Sensitive and specific predictors or biomarkers that can evaluate quality-of-life, risk of post-COVID-19 infection exacerbation (including shortness of breath, lung infection) and other long-term outcomes are critically needed. To better plan healthcare and societal reasources, it is also crucial to understand post-infection findings in everyone, including those with pre-existing chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD

Non-invasive imaging using hyperpolarized xenon-129 and low dose CT provides a way to comprehensively detect abnormalities in small airways, vasculature, and parenchyma. Xenon-129 MRI is a fast (10 second), non-invasive, and radiation-free method to measure the structure and function of the terminal airways where gas exchange happens. This approach provides a way to simultaneously quantify the regions of the lung where ventillation and perfusion happen, and where it does not.

We are using CT and 129Xe MRI with survivors of mild and severe COVID-19 infection to answer the following questions:

  1. What lasting effects persist in COVID-19 patients after recovery?
  2. Why do men suffer severe disease and death at a much greater rate than women?
  3. Are there differences in pulmonary ventilation or vascular abnormalities related to previous ICU or outpatient treatment?
  4. Can MRI and CT biomarkers explain persistent symptoms and help guide future treatment decisions to ultimately minimize severe disease and health care utilization?
  5. Do patients with chronic lung disease including asthma and COPD need different strategies to improve outcomes?