A new study shows that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (coronavirus 2019), can infect heart cells in a lab dish, indicating it may be possible for heart cells in COVID-19 patients to be directly infected by the virus. The discovery, published online on June 25, 2020 in Cell Reports Medicine (https://www.cell.com/cell-reports-medicine/fulltext/S2666-3791(20)30068-9) (see graphic abstract of article below), was made using heart muscle cells that were produced by stem cell technology. The article is titled “Human iPSC-Derived Cardiomyocytes, Are Susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 Infection.” Although many COVID-19 patients experience heart problems, the reasons are not entirely clear. Pre-existing cardiac conditions or inflammation and oxygen deprivation that result from the infection have all been implicated. But, until now, there has been only limited evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus directly infects the individual muscle cells of the heart. “We not only uncovered that these stem cell-derived heart cells are susceptible to infection by novel coronavirus, but that the virus can also quickly divide within the heart muscle cells,” said Arun Sharma, PhD, a Senior Research Fellow at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute and the first and co-corresponding author of the study. “Even more significant, the infected heart cells showed changes in their ability to beat after 72 hours of infection.” The study also demonstrated that human stem-cell-derived heart cells infected by SARS-CoV-2 change their gene expression profile, further confirming that the cells can be actively infected by the virus and activate innate cellular “defense mechanisms” in an effort to help clear out the virus.
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