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CU Anschutz Researchers Win Grant to Study COVID-19 Effects on Heart

Team joins doctors from Mayo Clinic, Stanford and Cleveland Clinic in winning grant

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Written by David Kelly on May 1, 2020

A team of CU Anschutz researchers, along with scientists at the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University and others, have won a grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to investigate the effects of COVID-19 on the body’s cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems.

The COVID-19 and Its Cardiovascular Impact Rapid Response Grant received over 750 proposals from institutions around the nation, one of the largest responses the AHA ever had to a single topic request for applications. The association awarded $1.2 million to teams at 12 of those institutions, including CU Anschutz.

“Despite extensive evidence of clinically important cardiac involvement in some COVID-19 patients, virtually nothing is known about how the virus is affecting the heart and why patients with a history of heart problems are more at risk,” said Michael Bristow, MD, PhD, professor of cardiology and leader of the team from the CU School of Medicine. “We don’t even know if the virus can directly infect heart muscle cells.”

But based on work done in his lab over the last 15 years, Bristow and his team know that the receptor the COVID-19 virus binds to is increased in abnormal heart muscle and other mechanisms may be responsible for patients with histories of heart problems being more susceptible to the cardiac effects of COVID.

“In this study of COVID-19 patients with evidence of cardiac involvement with catheters, we’ll be taking samples of the heart muscle, measuring the amount as well as the cell-localization of the virus,” Bristow said. “We’ll then investigate how the virus is altering the heart’s histologic and molecular makeup. Hopefully, these findings will set the stage for more specific treatment of cardiac involvement in COVID-19 disease.”

The other team members include: Natasha Altman, MD, Cardiology; John Messenger, MD, Cardiology; Edward Gill, MD, Cardiology; Thomas Campbell, MD, Infectious Diseases and Amber Berning, MD, Pathology.

The Cleveland Clinic will serve as the initiative’s COVID-19 Coordinating Center. A team from this center will collect results from the research projects and coordinate the dissemination of all study findings.

“Several of these studies focus on disparity and underserved populations and many with pre-existing conditions and that’s critical because we’re seeing these people coming in sicker and getting sicker faster from the complications of COVID-19 and we need to understand what’s causing that and how we can help them,” said American Heart Association president Robert A. Harrington, M.D., FAHA, Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and chair of the department of medicine at Stanford University.

The research projects are considered fast-tracked to report results as quickly as possible to address the COVID-19 crisis. Research will get underway as early as June 1, with findings expected in less than six to nine months for most of the studies. Several researchers aim to have actionable outcomes before a new anticipated wave of COVID-19 strikes in the winter.