Vanderbilt team to analyze effects of COVID-19 on heart

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The American Heart Association (AHA) has provided a major grant to a research team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to study long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart and cardiovascular system.

The team — led by Cyndya Shibao, MD, MSCI, associate professor of Medicine — will work to discover new treatment pathways for disabling symptoms of the long-term disease.

The three year, $1 million grant was one of 11 awards the AHA announced on April 14.

An estimated one in 10 people who recover from COVID-19 will develop chronic, debilitating symptoms including fatigue, chest pain and reduced exercise tolerance with an abnormally rapid heart rate. These symptoms can persist for weeks beyond the initial viral infection.

The symptoms of these “long-COVID” patients are suggestive of a disorder called postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS). POTS primarily affects women and is characterized by lightheadedness, extreme fatigue and a chronically rapid heart rate upon standing.

While the cause of POTS symptoms in long-COVID patients is unknown, unresolved inflammation seems to play a role. Various causes and stimuli of inflammatory bodily functions will be studied among long-COVID patients and compared with control groups.

Meena Madhur, MD, PhD, Luis Okamoto, MD, research assistant of Medicine, and Italo Biaggioni, MD, the David Robertson, MD Professor of Autonomic Disorders and professor of Medicine and Pharmacology will also participate in the research and studies.

Biaggioni was recognized by the American Heart Association as a Distinguished Scientist in 2021 for his contributions to cardiovascular reasearch.