Researchers to Examine COVID-19 Impact on Heart Function

Aug. 25, 2020 - The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant ($547,000) to UC Irvine biomedical engineers Anna Grosberg, Wendy Liu and Elliot Botvinick for their project to investigate how COVID-19 affects the heart.

Grosberg (principal investigator) and Liu, associate professors of biomedical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Botvinick, professor of biomedical engineering and surgery, will look at the interplay between the immune system and cardiac function in cases of severe coronavirus.

Although the virus primarily targets the lungs, clinicians have observed that it affects the heart’s ability to generate sufficient force to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body. The reason this happens is unclear. A possible explanation is decreased available oxygen for the heart muscle, or hypoxia, and an overstimulated immune system. With the NSF funds, the Samueli School researchers plan to develop a novel immuno-heart in vitro platform, to show the relationship between cardiac biomechanics and the combined affliction of hypoxia and an overactive immune system.

The new platform will incorporate an immune component and oxygen gradient generator, representing a transformative platform that will simulate a multisystem response to COVID-19 conditions (silent hypoxia, microvascular dysfunction induced ischemia, and systemic hyperinflammation). If successful, this system will lead to a greater fundamental understanding of the reciprocal interactions between heart and immune cells, in conjunction with environmental factors, in healthy hearts and in patients with COVID-19-related cardiac complications.

“This understanding will spark conversation on potential immune targets and novel therapies to preserve the heart’s mechanical function throughout and post-COVID-19 infection,” said Grosberg.

– Lori Brandt

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