A team of scientists in London has discovered an experimental drug that may aid in the prevention of Covid-related heart damage
Scientists at the University of Cambridge used human embryonic stem cells to grow heart cells in the lab in order to better understand how the virus infects the heart cells. Importantly, these model heart cells contained the key components required for SARS-CoV-2 infection, specifically the ACE2 receptor.
Using the model, they discovered DX600, an experimental peptide drug that can prevent the virus from entering the heart cells. The research was published in the journal Communications Biology.
We were able to create a model that, in many ways, behaves like a heart, beating in rhythm, by using stem cells. “This has allowed us to look at how the coronavirus infects cells and, more importantly, helps us screen potential drugs that could prevent heart damage,” said Dr Sanjay Sinha of the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.
The researchers discovered that drugs that target the proteins involved in SARS-CoV-2 viral entry significantly reduced infection levels. DX600 is an ACE2 peptide antagonist, which is a molecule that specifically targets ACE2 and inhibits the activity of peptides that allow the virus to enter the cell.
DX600 was approximately seven times more effective than the antibody at preventing infection, though the researchers believe this is due to the higher concentrations used. The drug had no effect on the number of heart cells, indicating that it was unlikely to be toxic.
“The spike protein functions as a key that fits into the ACE2 receptor on the cell’s surface, allowing it to enter. DX600 acts like gum, jamming the mechanism of the lock and making it much more difficult for the key to turn and unlock the cell door “said Professor Anthony Davenport, a fellow at St Catharine’s College in Cambridge and a member of the Department of Medicine.
He added that more research on this drug is needed, “but it could provide us with a new treatment to help reduce heart harm in patients recently infected with the virus, particularly those who already have underlying heart conditions or who have not been vaccinated.” It may also “help reduce the symptoms of long Covid”