AHA awards grants to 12 teams for fast-tracked heart and brain health research related to COVID-19

Less than a month after issuing a rapid response call for scientific research proposals for fast-tracked studies of the effects of COVID-19 on the body's cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems, the American Heart Association has awarded $1.2 million in grants to teams at 12 institutions across the U.S. to begin this unprecedented work. Additional funding for special research projects within each of the four new Health Technologies & Innovations Strategically Focused Research Centers brings the Association's COVID-19 related scientific research funding to $2 million.

The COVID-19 and Its Cardiovascular Impact Rapid Response Grant initiative received an overwhelming response, with more than 750 proposals submitted, marking it as one of the Association's largest submissions to a single topic request for applications.

We were just blown away and so impressed to see this level of interest and commitment from the teams submitting such thorough proposals so quickly -- our submission deadline was less than two weeks. Once those responses started coming in, we were yet again amazed as over 150 of our volunteers stepped up immediately to offer to review these proposals and got those reviews completed in less than 10 days. What a testament to our researcher community being so ready to activate in these extraordinary times, it's just very gratifying and humbling."

Robert A. Harrington, M.D., FAHA, Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and chair of the department of medicine at Stanford University, American Heart Association president

Cleveland Clinic was selected to serve as the initiative's COVID-19 Coordinating Center. A team from this center, led by Mina K. Chung, M.D, Professor of Medicine, will collect results from the research projects and coordinate the dissemination of all study findings.

The research projects include:

  • Columbia University Irving Medical Center, led by Sanjum S. Sethi, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Medicine -- A Comprehensive Assessment of Arterial and Venous Thrombotic Complications in Patients with COVID-19: Working with New York-Presbyterian and the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, this team will evaluate the clotting complications of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients, develop a risk score to aid in bedside decision-making and conduct a clinical trial to determine optimal medical treatment to prevent clotting complications in future COVID-19 patients.
  • Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, led by Joseph Loscalzo, M.D., Ph.D., Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine -- Repurposing Drugs for Treatment of Cardiomyopathy Caused by Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2): Working with the Center for Complex Network Research of Northeastern University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Boston University, this team will look at repurposing already approved drugs for faster applications in treating COVID-19 patients.
  • Kaiser Permanente Southern California, led by Jaejin An, Ph.D., Research Scientist I -- Risk of Severe Morbidity and Mortality of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Among Patients Taking Antihypertensive Medications: This team will evaluate antihypertensive medication treatment in patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection and high blood pressure and their results could have an immediate impact on clinical guidance for patient care.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital, led by Michael T. Lu, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Radiology -- Deep learning using chest radiographs to predict COVID-19 cardiopulmonary risk: Working with the Mass General Brigham hospitals, this team will use deep learning techniques and the initial chest x-ray of patients admitted for treatment to develop a new way to predict COVID-19 cardiopulmonary collapse and death.
  • Mayo Clinic, led by Ognjen Gajic, M.D., Professor of Medicine -- Cardiovascular Outcomes and Biomarker Titrated Corticosteroid Dosing for SARS COV-2 (COVID-19): A Randomized Controlled Trial: This team will expand its current SMART randomized clinical trial to add the evaluation of biomarker-titrated corticosteroids dosing compared to usual care for treating COVID-19 patients.
  • Stanford University, led by Paul Heidenreich, M.D., Professor of Medicine -- Outcomes for Patients with Hypertension, Diabetes and Heart Disease in the Coronavirus Pandemic: Impact of Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers Treatment: Working with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Stanford Health Care and Northern California Kaiser, this team will study the use of ACE and ARBs on patients with high blood pressure or diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic to determine trends in the rates of COVID-19 infection, influenza, medication adherence, hospitalizations and deaths to improve patient management practices.
  • University of California, Los Angeles, led by Tzung K. Hsiai, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Bioengineering -- Rapid COVID-19-on-A-Chip to Screen Competitive Targets for SARS-CoV-2 Spike Binding Sites: Working with the UCLA Cancer Virology Program, California Nanosystems Institute, Statistics and Epidemiology, Data Science, Behavioral Sciences, UCLA Medical Center and West Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, this team will set out to develop the first-of-its-kind COVID-19-on-a-chip, targeting the heart for now, but adaptable to other organ systems impacted by the infection, including the lung, gut, kidney and brain.
  • University of California, San Francisco, led by Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Medicine -- COVID-19 Infection, African-American Women and Cardiovascular Health: Working with the UCSF NURTURE Center and the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, this team will use the Black Women's Health Study cohort to understand the experiences and cardiovascular effects of COVID-19 on African-American women, a population historically at the intersection of the worst health and economic disparities in the United States.
  • University of Colorado, led by Michael R. Bristow, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Cardiology -- Myocardial Virus and Gene Expression in SARS CoV-2 Positive Patients with Clinically Important Myocardial Dysfunction: This team will study the specific mechanisms for how COVID-19 impacts the cardiovascular system either due to a robust inflammatory response and direct myocardial injury because that distinction can define therapeutic treatment. University of Massachusetts, led by Jane E. Freedman, M.D., Professor of Medicine -- The Role of the Platelet in Mediating Cardiovascular Disease in SARS-CoV-2 Infection: This team will study the mechanisms of the platelet-mediated immune response of the COVID-19 virus on the cardiovascular system collecting fundamental molecular knowledge about the disease course of infection that will enable development of novel tools and strategies for clinical management that will lead to improved outcomes.
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center, led by Rebekah L. Gundry, Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Cellular and Integrative Physiology -- Harnessing Glycomics to Understand Myocardial Injury in COVID-19: This group will be exploring specific pathways and biomarkers to identify those most at risk for COVID-19 infection and cardiovascular complications from the virus, and ultimately will look to develop the means for personalized medicine and future genomic testing and treatment.

"Several of these studies focus on disparity and underserved populations and many with pre-existing conditions and that's critical because we're seeing these people coming in sicker and getting sicker faster from the complications of COVID-19 and we need to understand what's causing that and how we can help them," Harrington said. "There's so much we don't know about this unique coronavirus and we continue to see emerging complications affecting both heart and brain health for which we desperately need answers and we need them quickly."

The research projects are considered fast-tracked to report results as quickly as possible to address the COVID-19 crisis. Research will get underway as early as June 1, with findings expected in less than six to nine months for most of the studies. Several researchers aim to have actionable outcomes before a new anticipated wave of COVID-19 strikes in the winter.

Along with these new rapid response research grants, the American Heart Association is also funding $800,000 in supplemental, short-term special projects for the four centers in its new Health Technologies & Innovation Strategically Focused Research Network. This funding is in addition to their original grants announced earlier this month and will focus on rapid technology solutions to address the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Those projects include:

  • Cincinnati Children's Hospital -- Ejection Fraction as the Sixth Vital Sign for Patients with COVID-19: Improved triage using point-of-care echocardiography
  • The Johns Hopkins University -- In-Home Diagnostic Triage via Smartphone Video Virtual Check-In for Potential Stroke Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Novel Approach to Improving Cardiovascular Health Equity and Long-Term Cardiovascular Prevention
  • Stanford University -- Digital COVID-19 Patient Tracking and Reporting Tool Kit Focused on Patients with Cardiovascular Complications and Disease
  • University of Michigan -- COVID-19 Health Evaluation & Cardiovascular Complications (CHECC) Study: Using mHealth to Track Physiological and Cardiovascular Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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