University of Arkansas at Fayetteville associate professor Kartik Balachandran has been awarded a $436,642 grant by the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of COVID on the aortic heart valve.
The virus that causes COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system through the lungs, but heart-related comorbidities are also associated with the disease. Balachandran will examine the role of a enzyme known as ACE2, which mediates the virus into lung cells but has also been found in elevated levels in damaged heart valve tissue.
"Everybody’s rightly focused on the lungs," Balachandran said in a news release. "They’re looking at how COVID’s affecting the lungs. People can’t breathe. They have to go on ventilators. But there's this whole other area [the heart] that hasn't received enough attention, and so that's where I'm hoping this project can provide some insight."
Balachandran hopes to find an answer to whether excess ACE2 on heart valves can create a pathway for COVID infection. He plans to create a small, three-dimensional heart-valve chip that will simulate the structure and function of living organs. The chips will be enclosed and have channels for fluid to flow throw, simulating blood.
His aim is to produce a model to obtain quantitative data on whether diseased valve-chips are more susceptible to viral infection compared to healthy valve-chips.