American Heart Association: More than $10M in research grants awarded to study long COVID impact on CVD health

MILWAUKEE —Eleven teams of scientific researchers, including a team at the Medical College of Wisconsin, have been selected as recipients of American Heart Association research grants to study the long-term influence of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health. The “Mechanisms Underlying Cardiovascular Consequences Associated with COVID-19 and long COVID” grants total more than $10.6 million to support research team across the country over the next three years. The Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health and research for all, is continuing to build the body of science related to the impact of COVID-19 as the worldwide pandemic moves into its third year.

The Association continues to build the body of science related to the impact of COVID-19 as the worldwide pandemic moves into its third year. The 11 new research projects are underway as of April 1.

“Research shows that 10% to 30% of people who have COVID-19 are experiencing lingering effects of the virus well beyond the initial 2-to-3 weeks expected recovery, a condition known as long COVID. Many of the short- and long-term complications of COVID-19 affect the heart and the brain and are contributing to an increase in cardiovascular disease in ways we do not fully understand,” said  American Heart Association President Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, chair of the department of preventive medicine, the Eileen M. Foell Professor of Heart Research and professor of preventive medicine, medicine and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“It’s critical that we learn all we can about the pathways and mechanisms in which the virus that causes COVID-19 attacks the body, and, in turn, identify and develop new treatments to help reduce further risk and improve the health of people impacted by this disease. It’s very exciting to know that these new research grants will pave the way for groundbreaking and lifesaving discoveries.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin will receive $999,996 as part of the grant. Its efforts will be led by Michael Widlansky, M.D., the Northwestern Mutual Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine.

“Recent data shows that there is an increased risk of heart attacks for at least a year after COVID-19 infection,” Widlansky said. “Our preliminary work suggests that this increased risk may be in part due to activation of systemic and blood vessel inflammation through a receptor known as TLR9.

“Our early work suggests that this inflammation is triggered by circulating particles from a part of the cell known as mitochondria that are known to activate the TLR9 receptor.”

Widlansky and his team will explore whether the use of a dietary supplement called Lp299v can restore normal blood vessel function to improve the health of people after COVID-19 infection.

“We believe that the dietary supplement could reduce inflammation in blood vessels through the pathways (in the TLR9 receptor) and lead to improved function of blood vessels, as well as improve the activity and health of the immune system in patients after they have recovered from acute COVID-19 infection,” Widlansky said.

Lloyd-Jones noted that people with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and those who have heart disease or survived a stroke may be more susceptible to severe COVID-19. They are particularly vulnerable to its effects, dying from the virus at rates of two to three times higher than people in the general population.

“COVID-19 has also disproportionately impacted people of color, including increased rates of hospitalization and death among American Indian or Alaska Natives, Black individuals and Hispanic or Latino people,” Lloyd-Jones said. “A number of these research projects will address those disparities and focus on inclusion of diverse populations.”

This latest research initiative extends the American Heart Association’s commitment to understanding and mitigating the biological effects of the infectious virus that causes COVID-19, as it is related to heart and brain. As the largest nongovernmental funder of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research in the U.S., the Association recognized early in the pandemic the need to change course to meet developing needs precipitated by the emergence of COVID-19.

Since March 2020, the Association has:

·       funded $2.4 million in research on COVID-19, the results of which are currently being reported;

·       created a large, national registry of health records for patients hospitalized with COVID-19 – the Get With the Guidelines® COVID-19 CVD Registry;

·       provided enhanced flexibility and up to $3 million in supplemental funding for recipients of AHA research grants;

·       reviewed nearly 4,000 manuscripts focused on COVID-19 research in the Association’s 13 peer-reviewed scientific journals;

·       disseminated more than 50 presentations on COVID-19 research at the Association’s premier scientific meetings; and

·       established a collection of resources for health care systems, clinicians, patients and the public.

Overall, the American Heart Association has funded more than $4.9 billion in cardiovascular research since 1949.

Additional Resources

·     AHA Resources: American Heart Association coronavirus (COVID-19) resources

·     AHA Resources: American Heart Association coronavirus (COVID019) resources for health care professionals

·     AHA News Release: The American Heart Association outlines its role in the global COVID-19 pandemic

·     Follow AHA/ASA news on Twitter @HeartNews

The Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific Association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, device manufacturers and health insurance providers and the Association’s overall financial information are available here.