This week at Kernel, we’ve been circulating an executive summary on the cognitive effects of Covid-19, some suspected mechanisms, and exploring what we can do about it. I am sharing with you because I think it’s too important not to. Some quotes from it:

  • “In one study, histopathological signs of brain damage were seen postmortem in 25% of individuals who died of Covid-19.”
  • “However, the virus does not need to infect neurons directly to have widespread, debilitating CNS impact.”
  • “Nothing like the Covid-19 global pandemic has ever been seen before in the global mental health community and the cognitive and mental impact on well-being will last years or decades.”

Vaccines are on their way, so too is the looming (“third wave”) cognitive crisis: “One long-term impact of COVID-19 that is becoming increasingly apparent is its effect on cognitive function, even in those with mild symptoms.

Bryan Johnson wearing Kernel Flow

What we need is a sister endeavor in both size and scale to Project Warp Speed for mental and cognitive health.  To that end, we are seeking private organizations interested in immediately funding proof of concept studies using neuroimaging to study the impact of COVID on healthy and recovered individuals. Kernel will donate the neuroimaging technology and services. Please reach out if interested.

We are on the brink of potentially the largest mental health crisis in modern history, brought on by both the virus itself and the unprecedented social and economic upheaval. (The anticipated costs of mental health to the globe before Covid-19 was already a projected $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030.) Yet human neuroimaging research is mostly shut down the world over and, even worse, the traditional, room-sized technologies are ill-suited for the required speed and scale and sheer amount of scanning hours and access needed to properly and scientifically confront this crisis. We are entering a potential Dark Ages for neuroscience at the worst possible time. By the end of the pandemic, hundreds of millions will have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

The problem is that it is certain now that the virus has an impact outside the lungs and on the brain and central nervous system, with early observations of stroke, “brain fog”, delirium, brain hemorrhage, Guillain-Barré, encephalitis, seizure, and severe psychosis, even in those with no history of mental health problems. We don’t know the extent of COVID’s impact on mental health because there hasn’t been enough data collected.  What’s measured can be managed and addressed, so let’s start measuring it.  Just like blood oxygenation measurements were critical in diagnosing the progression of COVID and the required intervention, we believe that neuroimaging has the potential to provide the needed measurements for diagnosing and monitoring mental health.

We have no idea how bad the third wave will be, only hints, and the evidence is alarming. There is already a silent mental health pandemic for those who never got the virus but who suffered from prolonged isolation, stress, loss, lack of sleep, or lack of medical care. As the world vaccinates and reopens, we need to turn the spotlight on the full and likely long-term cognitive, vascular, and emotional effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the brain, which will linger with a much longer tail than the epidemiology.

A mental health pandemic is on people’s radars but the machinery of government funding mechanisms which shape academic labs just hasn’t caught up yet. For example, though we’ve partnered with the top tier academic labs who will be using our non-invasive neuroimaging brain interface, none of them are explicitly working on Covid-19 and cognition. This isn’t an industry vs. academia vs. government debate. This is, like the vaccine rollout, an all of us problem.

This is a crisis which abates in size in proportion to the speed that we can move.


Read more at Future Literacy.