AHA commits US$2.5 million for fast-tracked COVID-19 heart and brain research

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has committed US$2.5 million to research efforts to better understand the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and its interaction with the body’s cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems.

Specifically, the Association will be offering fast-tracked research grants for short-term projects that can turn around results within nine to 12 months to better understand the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and clinical management of COVID-19 as it relates to heart and brain health. There will also be additional funding made available to the Association’s new Health Technologies & Innovation Strategically Focused Research Centers to develop rapid technology solutions to aid in dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic.

“Approximately 120 million people in the USA have one or more cardiovascular diseases, which may place them at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and experiencing complications of the virus, making it even more critical that we find out all we can about this disease and urgently work on reducing its impact,” said American Heart Association president Robert A Harrington (Stanford University, Stanford, USA). “Research is the very foundation of the American Heart Association and, given our global mission, this rapid response grant is an unprecedented but logical move for the organisation in these extraordinary times. We are committed to quickly bringing together and supporting some of the brightest minds in research science and clinical care who are shovel-ready with the laboratories, tools and data resources to immediately begin work on addressing this emergent issue.”

COVID-19, like most in the coronavirus family, is primarily a disease of the respiratory system. However, a number of reports from other countries, as well as in the USA, have indicated that people with high blood pressure or who have heart disease or survived a stroke may be more vulnerable to its effects, with mortality rates two to three times higher than in the general population. There have been accounts of infected people without underlying complications who are developing deadly arrhythmias from infection and inflammation that damage heart muscle. Additionally, strokes and other brain diseases have been reported in COVID-19 patients in China. These findings may further illustrate a critical relationship between COVID-19 and the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems.

Through the COVID-19 and Its Cardiovascular Impact Rapid Response Grant initiative, AHA will fund one national coordinating centre along with at least 10 project grants of US$100,000 each. Due to the critical need, the application, review and award processes for the grants will be expedited with applications due by April 6, awardees being announced in early May and projects underway by June. Highly impactful, short-term research projects that can be completed within nine months to a year will take precedence.

“I am extremely proud of the agility of our volunteer leadership and of the staff of the American Heart Association that allows us to pivot so quickly to initiate vital research to find much needed answer in these challenging times,” said AHA CEO Nancy Brown. “What more important work can we do as an organisation than activate our trusted platform to provide solutions for this global crisis.”

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