Seminar explores similarities between long COVID and traumatic brain injury

Randall J. Urban, MD.

Published March 14, 2022

“Our work is indicating that there may be a treatment for patients with long COVID that have the complaints of fatigue and altered cognition. We could restore many patients who cannot function in society back as productive members of society.”
Randall J. Urban, MD.

What are the similarities between long COVID and traumatic brain injury? And how might these similarities impact potential treatment of the lingering symptoms affecting many recovering COVID-19 patients? This timely topic is the subject of the next University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Distinguished Speaker Seminar, an ongoing series which presents top experts on a diverse range of topics.

The seminar on Wednesday, April 6, will feature Randall J. Urban, MD, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine; Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Office of the Provost; Vice Dean of Clinical Research, School of Medicine; Director, Institute for Translational Sciences; and Principal Investigator, Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), University of Texas Medical Branch.

The free seminar is titled “Similar Chronic Symptoms After COVID and Traumatic Brain Injury: Do PASC and BIAFAC Share Common Mechanisms?” It will be held online via Zoom from 4 to 5 p.m.; find more information and registration link here.

Long COVID refers to the lasting symptoms (post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, or PASC) that affect many recovering COVID-19 patients, including fatigue and “brain fog.” In his seminar, Urban will discuss the similarities between long COVID symptoms and those seen in a group of patients following traumatic brain injury, referred to as Brain Injury Associated Fatigue and Altered Cognition (BIAFAC). These BIAFAC patients evidence an altered gut microbiome and abnormal growth hormone secretion. Growth hormone treatment has been shown to dramatically reduce symptoms.

Given the similarities between PASC and BIAFAC, Urban’s current research seeks to determine if these conditions share similar etiology, mechanisms, and potential treatment options. He says his research could have a tangible impact on methods for treatment of long COVID.

“Our work is indicating that there may be a treatment for patients with long COVID that have the complaints of fatigue and altered cognition,” he explains. “We could restore many patients who cannot function in society back as productive members of society.”

He also believes there are misconceptions about long COVID, and that those misconceptions have impacted treatment: “Whenever you have a syndrome that is poorly defined, there is the tendency in the medical community to say the patient is having psychological or coping issues that are causing the symptoms. This makes the patient voiceless and leads to little hope of finding the actual cause of the disease.”

Urban says a current study is underway treating long COVID patients with symptoms of fatigue and altered cognition with growth hormone treatment for six months.  

“We are planning to study 15 patients,” he says. “The first patients are beginning to finish and are reporting improved fatigue and cognition. They very much want to continue the growth hormone. We cannot say definitely until the study is complete, but the preliminary reports are encouraging.”

In his role as Principal Investigator of the Clinical and Translational Science Award at UTMB, Urban has a deep understanding of and belief in the importance of clinical and translational research.

“As providers of healthcare, our goal is to transform our patients from a state of illness to a state of health,” Urban says. “We cannot accomplish this goal without carefully designed studies that show scientifically the newest cutting edge treatment for patients across a range of diseases. While we use the term bench to bedside many times to talk about translational research, the opposite is also very important for translational research. The clinician sees the clinical syndrome in the patient and uses that information to design mechanistic studies to understand and hopefully treat the syndrome.“

UB CTSI Director Timothy F. Murphy, MD, calls Urban “a distinguished translational scientist whose pioneering work has had an impact in the development of new treatments for a number of disorders, including diabetes, traumatic brain injury, stem cell therapy and others. As an endocrinologist, he takes a comprehensive view of health and disease. His most recent work has the potential to transform the understanding and treatment of long COVID, a poorly understood and often debilitating disorder. I am most excited to welcome Dr. Urban as our CTSI Distinguished Speaker on April 6.”

The CTSI Distinguished Speaker Seminar Series is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number UL1TR001412 to the University at Buffalo.

For questions about the series, contact or (716) 829-4718.