COVID-19 Research Grant
Prof Ioakim Spyridopoulos, Newcastle University
Summary: Up to 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients in the UK suffer from ‘long COVID’ and it is thought that many patients who have had COVID-19 have ongoing inflammation in their heart. This research aims to identify new blood markers as well as guide specific immune-therapies to prevent heart inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications in patients recovering from COVID-19.
COVID-19 is caused by infection with the novel virus SARS-CoV-2. Around one per cent of patients will die from this disease, and up to 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients in the UK suffer from so-called ‘long COVID’ where symptoms last for more than three months. In addition to causing chest infection and breathing problems, COVID-19 can also affect the heart, and early heart involvement is associated with poor survival. While older patients, men and particularly those with cardiovascular disease are at highest risk, all of these subgroups also have a weaker ‘adaptive’ immune response in common. Heart injury caused by COVID-19, and particularly the role of the immune system, is poorly understood. Possibly up to half of patients who were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 have ongoing inflammation of their heart muscle and vessels, independent of pre-existing conditions, severity and overall course of the acute illness, or time from the original diagnosis.
The aim of this project is to study the role of the immune system in long-term heart inflammation. Professor Spyridopoulos and the team plan to a) identify specific blood markers that can tell us if there is still inflammation in the heart, b) understand the mechanism of this ongoing inflammation and c) discover which of the molecules in the immune response could be targeted by existing drugs to prevent future complications in patients recovering from COVID-19 and heart inflammation.
They will study blood samples from patients in the ongoing COVID-HEART trial, which involves a large UK consortium of leading researchers and clinicians led by Professor John Greenwood from the University of Leeds. The project will use a novel technology, called ‘spectral cytometry’, that can visualise hundreds of small cellular subgroups of the immune system.
This research has the potential to identify new blood markers of heart inflammation as well as guide specific immune-therapies to prevent ongoing heart inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications in patients recovering from COVID-19.