Research to start on coronavirus brain damage

Maastricht University is to collaborate with Amsterdam UMC to conduct research on brain damage caused by the coronavirus. The study will follow patients from the first Covid-19 wave for an extended period and examine them for possible brain damage. The results will be used to determine the right treatment for future Covid-19 patients. The research is now able to start thanks to a crowdfunding campaign by the Netherlands Brain Foundation (Hersenstichting), which has raised more than its target of 325,000 euros.

The coronavirus can cause brain damage in various ways both during and after infection, with both immediate and long-term effects if patients don’t receive the right treatment. It can lead to permanent cognitive symptoms that impact people’s daily lives, such as impaired concentration and attention span, and problems with memory and planning. However, as yet there is no understanding of why or how often this occurs, and what exactly is taking place in the brain.

Better treatment

The study will be led by Professor Caroline van Heugten of Maastricht University and Dr Janneke Horn of Amsterdam University Medical Centers (UMC). Previous research in Amsterdam has shown that brain damage can occur due to a coronavirus infection, but the study was conducted on patients who had died. ‘This is why it’s now so important to investigate the possible brain damage in Covid-19 patients who have survived the virus,’ says Van Heugten. ‘When we know who gets what symptoms and why, we can provide better treatment for brain damage in Covid-19 patients, or even prevent it from occurring. We need to do research now so that future patients can receive the right treatment.’

MRI scans and cognitive tests

The study includes Covid-19 patients who had the virus early this year and were admitted to hospital at Maastricht UMC+, Zuyderland, Amsterdam UMC, OLVG, UMC Utrecht or Diaconessenhuis. Several months after their discharge from hospital, they will be examined for the cognitive effects of the virus. The patients will be given cognitive tests and an MRI brain scan to reveal any brain damage. Patients and their families will also complete questionnaires to determine how they feel.


The research now has enough funding to start, but it is still possible to donate to the Brain Foundation until Monday 19 October. The extra donations will be used for an analysis of the treatment provided during the first Covid-19 wave so that improved treatment programmes can be developed and brain damage prevented in future.