In March 2021, well-known cardiologists discovered COVID-19 “cuts through the vertical muscle tissue of the heart.” They found COVID-19 is more than a respiratory disease and consider the virus harmful to several vital organs, including the heart.
Journalist Julie Langelier’s report in Science Translational Medicine revealed the findings of the Gladstone Institute’s report filed March 15.
Gladstone Institute is a nonprofit organization using state-of-the-art science and technology to combat disease. The facility has an academic relationship with UCSF and employs Dr. Bruce Conklin, a professor at UCSF; Dr. Todd McDevitt, a bioengineering and therapeutic sciences professor at UCSF and virologist Dr. Melanie Ott. The trio exposed heart cell damage to varying doses of SARS-CoV-2.
Reporter Langelier said the virus’s target is long strands of muscle fiber that allow the heart to beat. The report’s images verified the muscle strands are “essentially chopped into pieces.”
The doctors believe heart damage appeared at the beginning of COVID. In fact, Langelier reported the Santa Clara county woman known as the first coronavirus death in the U.S. actually died of a heart attack caused by the virus. Before the heart attack, she appeared healthy.
“Even today, because she didn’t have a cough, when we knew about it, people would have sent her home essentially,” said genetic disease researcher Bruce Conklin, M.D.
Gladstone is trying to understand the entire process. The team invented procedures enabling scientists to use stem cells to create live, beating heart cells. Injections of COVID-19 then infect heart muscle strands, in which they are then able to observe heart damage.
Researching the full range of the damage could take time. Dr. McDevitt cautioned, “We haven’t seen the movie — we’ve seen snapshots of a process that’s very dynamic. Putting that story together accurately so we can understand it… you know, questions such as when would be the time to treat people?”