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COVID-19 developments: 

A letter from the Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute

You may have heard the news that COVID-19 can have a lasting impact on the heart. This is a situation we are following very closely here at the Institute, so I thought you might appreciate a brief update on the latest local and international research on COVID-19 and its potentially damaging effect on the heart.

 

How far away is a coronavirus vaccine?

 I imagine what you most want to know is when there will be a vaccine. The short answer is we don’t know an exact date, but enormous progress has been made towards making a vaccine available as soon as possible. According to the World Health Organisation there are more than 140 vaccines being tested around the world. [1] Promising vaccine developments have emerged from several research groups, including from Oxford University, University of Queensland and the USA.

  • Oxford University - early results from the Oxford University vaccine trials that aim to develop antibodies and killer ‘t-cells’ are encouraging. People who have received this vaccine have shown an anti-body response, which means they have responded to the vaccine and that they may have potential immunity to the virus. The researchers are now testing to see how long any immunity lasts, and how effective it is in preventing people from contracting COVID-19. [1]

  • University of Queensland -  Phase 1 human trials have begun, which aim to determine the dosage and identify any side effects of the vaccine. One of the benefits of the University of Queensland’s approach is that if successful, mass production of the vaccine can be ramped up very quickly.[2]

  • United States and Moderna - A Phase 3 clinical trial designed to evaluate if an investigational vaccine can prevent symptomatic COVID-19 in adults has begun in the USA. The trial of the vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, is expected to enrol approximately 30,000 adult volunteers who do not have COVID-19.[3]

The medical and research community remains hopeful a successful vaccine will be developed and can be distributed within 12 to 18 months.

How can COVID-19 affect the heart?

We’ve known since the early days of the virus that it can exacerbate existing heart problems. But there is increasing evidence the virus could potentially also cause new heart problems. These include;

The biggest issue is that although we now know that COVID-19 has significant negative effects on the heart, we don’t properly understand how or why. While not conclusive, case reports of long-term heart problems following COVID-19 infection are beginning to be reported. A recent study showed approximately 10-30% of people hospitalised with the virus show molecular evidence of new cardiac injury.[4]

What coronavirus research is being conducted at the Institute?

Victor Chang Cardiac Research scientists continue to work on three projects directly related to COVID-19.

  • Discovering why and how COVID-19 affects the health of people with known heart conditions.
  • Investigating the potential side effects of medications being trialed to treat COVID-19.
  • Collaborating with a number of hospitals around Australia to identify whether a stem cell treatment, already known to work against other illnesses can combat COVID-19 in critically ill patients.

To read more about these research projects, click here. We’ll keep you up to date with the results as soon as they’re available.

Take care of your heart

One of the most concerning aspects of this pandemic is that some people with severe chest pain or heart attack symptoms are delaying going to hospital. They are concerned about catching the virus in hospital or placing a burden on the healthcare system. But I cannot stress strongly enough that if you have symptoms of a heart attack – that is mainly chest pain, pain going into the neck, jaw or arms or unexplained shortness of breath - then act quickly, do not delay. It’s far more dangerous to postpone a trip to hospital.

The best advice to protect your heart is to take every precaution to minimise the chances of contracting COVID-19. Stay away from crowds. Try and keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres from other people. Wash your hands regularly. If you are not able to socially distance, then wear a mask.

Finally, I'd like to add that one of the most encouraging aspects of this pandemic is the way in which researchers from around the world are collaborating to find cures and treatments for COVID-19. Thanks to the support of generous donors, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is proud to be a major part of this research network.


Look after yourselves and each other, 

(Jason signature) 

Professor Jason Kovacic
Executive Director & Cardiologist
Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute


REFERENCES    

[1] ABC News: Coronavirus Vaccine Most Promising Candidates 

[2] University of Queensland: COVID-19 Vaccine Agreement

[3] Moderna Biotechnology: Moderna's Work on a COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate      

[4] Journal of the American Medical Association:  Association of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) With Myocardial Injury and Mortality

 


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