In a new study, researchers 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.
The research was conducted by a team at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.
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.
In the study, the team examined a drug called apabetalone in COVID-19 patients.
Apabetalone belongs to a new class of drugs that has been in clinical trials for cardiovascular disease for more than five years.
It has received breakthrough therapy designation from the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration.
The team used thousands of lab-grown, miniature human heart organoids to understand how COVID-19 causes cardiac damage.
They 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.
They found which inflammatory factors are potentially causing cardiac problems.
These factors activate bromodomain protein 4 in the heart and was the key driver of cytokine storm damage.
The team then found drug apabetalone was also effective at blocking the inflammatory response.
Because it is already in phase III clinical trials for treating cardiovascular disease, it could be available sooner to treat COVID-19 patients.
The tests showed apabetalone also decreased the expression of the receptor protein ACE2, which is found on the cell surface and is used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to infect cells.
These findings showcase the unique dual-mechanism of apabetalone as a potential treatment for COVID-19 and provide strong support for human clinical trials.
One author of the study is Associate Professor James Hudson.
The study is published on the pre-print server bioRxiv.
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