A project investigating the effects of COVID-19 on blood vessels and blood pressure has received a grant of £250,000 from the national charity, Heart Research UK.
The University of Glasgow project is aiming to better understand the impact of a COVID-19 infection on blood vessels and blood pressure, as research has shown that people who are older, obese, male, or those who have other medical problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or chronic lung conditions, have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a condition that impacts more than one-quarter of adults in the UK.
The study will inform understanding of the links between COVID-19 infection and high blood pressure and help to improve the long-term outcomes for COVID-19 survivors.
SARS-CoV-2 enters cells in the body through a receptor called ACE2. This receptor is found in the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver, and bowel, and is important for maintaining processes such as blood pressure, inflammation, and healing.
COVID-19 can also cause damage to the walls of the blood vessels which makes the risk of blood clots higher – this has been seen more often in people with high blood pressure, however, the reasons for this are not yet known.
This study, which will be led by Professor Sandosh Padmanabhan, Professor of Cardiovascular Genomics and Therapeutics, aims to answer whether high blood pressure makes COVID-19 infection worse and if so, why, if COVID-19 infection makes high blood pressure worse and if so, why, and if monitoring and management of high blood pressure needs to be a greater priority during the pandemic.
The study will look at routinely collected health records for people in the West of Scotland who attended hospital or had a positive test for COVID-19 between April 2020 and April 2021. This will be compared to the records of patients who attended hospital during 2019, for another reason. They will also look in detail at a group of people with high blood pressure.
The team will also study a group of people that have recovered from COVID-19 infection who will undergo blood pressure monitoring and tests of heart and blood vessel health.
Finally, the study will look at biomarkers in the blood to potentially identify any that are linked with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or death in COVID-19.
Prof Padmanabhan said: “The current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has exposed unexpected cardiovascular vulnerabilities at all stages of the disease. The mechanism by which the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes infection is believed to directly and indirectly affect the cardiovascular system potentially resulting in new-onset hypertension, heart failure and stroke and represents an insidious feature of long-COVID.
“The burden of hypertension as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is unknown, but given the scale of the infection especially among the young this will be a major concern for the future. In this project, we plan to generate valuable evidence that will inform hypertension management strategies and reduce cardiovascular risk for survivors of COVID-19.”
Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the work of Professor Padmanabhan and his team, who are conducting vital research into one of the biggest medical challenges the world has ever faced.
“We have known for some time that those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions are more susceptible to developing severe complications from COVID-19. We hope that this research will help to explain why this is the case, reduce the risk for this vulnerable group and, ultimately, help to save more lives.
“Our grants are all about helping patients. They aim to bring the latest developments to those who need them as soon as possible.
“The dedication we see from UK researchers is both encouraging and inspiring, and we at Heart Research UK are proud to be part of it.”