Australian researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have discovered some of the ways COVID-19 damages the heart and identified a class of drugs that could potentially protect or reverse this cardiac injury.
In severe cases of COVID-19, the immune system overreacts to the infection, releasing inflammatory molecules called cytokines into the bloodstream. This so-called "cytokine storm" can damage multiple organs, including the heart.
Canadian company Resverlogix has used the QIMR Berghofer research findings as the basis for expanding its clinical trial of the drug, apabetalone, in COVID-19 patients.
The head of QIMR Berghofer's Cardiac Bioengineering Research Group, Associate Professor James Hudson, said his team used thousands of lab-grown, miniature human heart organoids to understand how COVID-19 causes cardiac damage.
"We exposed the bioengineered, stem-cell-derived heart tissue to COVID-19 patient blood and found it caused dysfunction even when the virus didn't infect the tissue."
The President and CEO of Resverlogix, Donald McCaffrey, said it had been a pleasure to work with the QIMR Berghofer team.
"We are excited that we can finally share publicly some of the incredible early results of our collaborative COVID-19 research program," McCaffrey said.