Older siblings’ example turns stem cells into heart cells

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have demonstrated that heart muscle cells that were derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells could stimulate more iPS cells to differentiate into heart cells. Turning iPS cells into a desired cell type is an ongoing challenge, but one possibility that has worked for some cell types is to culture iPS cells with mature cells of the desired type. The authors demonstrated that co-culturing induced cardiomyocytes (iCMs) and iPS cells was successful, but iCM-iPS cell-cell contact was essential for inductive differentiation, and that required overlaying already adherent iPS cells with iCMs. Importantly, that process was achieved “without the exogenous addition of pathway inhibitors and morphogens, suggesting that ‘older’ iCMs serve as an adequate stimulatory source capable of recapitulating the necessary culture environment for cardiac differentiation.” They reported their results in the April 3, 2020, online issue of PLoS ONE.

Study: High blood pressure meds safe for patients, even during COVID-19 pandemic

After studying 12,594 patients, researchers have determined that common drugs to treat high blood pressure did not increase the risk of either contracting COVID-19 or developing severe disease. Led by researchers from the New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine, the study found no links between treatment with four drug classes – angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers – and increased likelihood of a positive test for COVID-19. In addition, it was determined that there was no substantial increase in risk for more severe illness with any of the treatments in patients with the virus. To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers identified patients in the NYU Langone Health electronic health record with COVID-19 test results. The team then discretely extracted the medical history needed for the analysis, which compared treated and untreated patients. "Before our study, there were no experimental or clinical data demonstrating the consequences of using these medications one way or the other in people at risk for COVID-19," said senior study author Judith Hochman, the Harold Snyder Family Professor of Medicine and senior associate dean for clinical sciences at NYU Langone Health. "In terms of next steps, our plan is to use similar approaches to investigate other medications and their relationship to COVID-19 illness." Published online May 1, 2020, in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study was launched in response to a March 17 joint statement issued by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Heart Failure Society of America. The groups called for research into whether these meds worsen COVID-19 patient outcomes.

COVID-19 spurs fast-tracking of heart, brain health research

Shortly after a call 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. More than 750 proposals submitted, and the Cleveland Clinic was selected to serve as the initiative’s COVID-19 Coordinating Center. Mina Chung, professor of medicine, will collect results from the research projects and coordinate the dissemination of all study findings. The participants are Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, and University of California, San Francisco, University of Colorado, University of Massachusetts, University of Nebraska Medical Center. “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,” American Heart Association President Robert A. 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.” Research will get underway as early as June 1, 2020, findings expected in less than six to nine months for most. Several researchers are hoping to have actionable outcomes before a potential new wave of COVID-19 strikes this winter.

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