Lab-grown cells prove the coronavirus can directly attack the heart

  • A new study has found that the coronavirus can directly attack the heart
  • Tests were done on lab-grown heart cells, a popular method of research during the pandemic
  • The virus was also found to replicate itself in the heart, which could stop the organ from beating

Not only is Covid-19 attacking our lungs, but could also be targeting our hearts. 

The disease's respiratory issues have been at the forefront of reported symptoms and causes of death, but cardiac complications are also prevalent among Covid-19 patients.

One of these conditions is myocarditis, when a viral infection attacks the heart, weakening it and creating an abnormal heartbeat which could lead to death. 

A new study published in Cell Reports Medicine aimed to find out if these heart failures were a byproduct of the body's inflammatory immune response or if the virus could be directly attacking the heart. 

Heart autopsies on patients who have succumbed to the virus have yielded limited results due to pandemic regulations, so these scientists took a different route to study the heart. 

READ: Lab-grown mini-organs reveal the damage inflicted by Covid-19

Cells grown in a lab

Scientists subjected lab-grown heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs) to a SARS-CoV-2 infection to analyse the effect on heart function.

Like in other parts of the body, they found that the coronavirus hitches itself to ACE2 receptors just like in the lungs, and enters the heart's cells in a similar fashion.

It can also replicate itself in the heart's cells, causing a cytophatic effect where structural changes are made to the heart, weakening the organ's ability to contract and ultimately causing it to stop beating. 

This take-over process took 72 hours.

In response to this, the scientists used an ACE2 antibody to stop the virus from bonding to the heart muscle cells, and while effective to some degree, it didn't provide 100% protection.

ALSO READ: How your tongue can show if you have a healthy heart

Importance of this data to treatment

By understanding how the virus attacks the heart, healthcare professionals could administer antiviral agents to prevent cardiac complications in Covid-19 patients. By using these lab-grown cells, they could also develop drugs against the virus that specifically protect the heart. 

"Due to the enormity of the current Covid-19 pandemic, and the increasing evidence for associated cardiac symptoms, innovative approaches using technologies such as the hiPSC-CMs presented here will be critical to further understand and counteract SARS-CoV-2 infection," wrote the authors. 

The rise of organoids

Organs grown from stem cells – called organoids – have become crucial to understanding the effects of Covid-19 on the human body and has become quite popular in research.

It has its limitations, however.

While organoids better represent human cells, animal testing is sometimes considered more effective as it shows the effect of a virus and treatment across the whole biological system. 

Organoids only show how a single organ is affected, and the human body is a system with many moving parts that don't function in isolation.

READ: Your sleeping habits may affect your heart

Image credit: Pexels

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