Leicester’s Top 5 COVID research studies

One of the top ten Universities in the UK for COVID research has today (Tuesday 23 March) highlighted its top five research projects that have had a global impact.

As the nation prepares to mark one year since the first national lockdown was announced, the University of Leicester is showcasing its top five research breakthroughs, including; PHOSP-COVID, the world’s study into the long term impact of COVID-19; UK-REACH, which is examining the impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority healthcare workers; and a project investigating the developments of decoy proteins.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester, said:

”The University of Leicester continues to play a world-leading role in the UK and beyond in health research.

The confidence in our pioneering research and our researchers as true Citizens of Change has been recognised globally and we continue to play our part in fighting COVID-19.

I am incredibly proud of the achievements of our researchers throughout the pandemic who have demonstrated the power, and importance, of world-changing research to transform patient outcomes and ultimately save lives.”


    PHOSP-COVID is a major UK research study into the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 on hospitalised patients, awarded urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

    Led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (a partnership between the University of Leicester and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust), the £8.4million PHOSP-COVID study has drawn on expertise from a consortium of leading researchers and clinicians from across the UK to assess the impact of COVID-19 on patient health and their recovery.

    More than 1,000 patients have been recruited so far, and around 10,000 patients are expected to take part, making it the largest comprehensive study in the world to understand and improve the health of survivors after hospitalisation from COVID-19.

    The University of Leicester was awarded £2million in Government funding to investigate why people from ethnic minority backgrounds have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, after higher proportions of associated deaths were recorded within these groups – more than twice that of the white population.

    Jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the University of Leicester-led UK-REACH study (UK Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers) have been working with more than 30,000 clinical and non-clinical members of staff to assess their risk of COVID-19, based on the analysis of two million healthcare records.

    Academics at the University of Leicester have played an integral role in bringing the issue about the severe impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority populations to the fore, and have led a campaign to increase the number of people involved in COVID-19 research to address the disproportionate impact of the virus on communities.
  3. Decoy proteins

    Using pioneering techniques in molecular evolution, Professor Nick Brindle, Professor of Cell Signalling at the University of Leicester’s Departments of Molecular and Cell Biology and Cardiovascular Sciences, has been working on the creation of decoy proteins that bind and trap the coronavirus to stop it infecting cells in our bodies.

    Through the creation of a new soluble protein that binds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the COVID-19 virus is prevented from being able to bind to and infect our cells.

    The COVID-19 virus normally infects lungs and tissues by binding to a receptor called ACE2 on the surface of our cells. The decoy mimics these receptors, but it is engineered to be more attractive to the virus, so it will bind to the decoy and not ACE2, preventing the virus from ‘hijacking’ and reproducing within our cells.
  4. Lockdown and air pollution

    The University of Leicester’s Professor Paul Monks, the former chair of the UK Government’s science advisory committee on air quality, predicted there will be important lessons to learn from the lockdown, arguing that we are “inadvertently conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen.”

    His comments came after satellite imagery from the European Space Agency highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic has been temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world.

    Professor Monks said that a reduction in air pollution could bring some health benefits, though they were unlikely to offset loss of life from the disease: “It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories, for example some asthma sufferers,” he said. “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.”
  5. Your COVID Recovery

    Your COVID Recovery was launched by NHS England in collaboration with NHS Improvement, the University of Leicester, and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL), as a new project to help rehabilitate thousands of patients across the UK who are recovering from COVID-19 has been led by Professor Sally Singh, Head of Pulmonary and Cardiac Rehabilitation, the Your COVID Recovery website is one of the first such services in the world, designed to support patients with ongoing symptoms from coronavirus in their recovery by creating a health and wellbeing information hub, in addition to a personalised interactive rehabilitation programme designed by health professionals.

    Around one in 20 patients are likely to experience ongoing health problems after contracting COVID-19, including breathing difficulties, tiredness and cough, reduced muscle function, a reduced ability to undertake physical activity and mental health problems such as PTSD.