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Finding Genius Podcast: COVID-19 | The Heart of the Matter

Richard Jacobs, host of the widely followed "Finding Genius Podcast," devoted a recent half-hour episode to interviewing Cedars-Sinai investigators about their pioneering research on COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, and research fellow Arun Sharma, PhD, discussed their study demonstrating that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can infect heart cells in a lab dish.

Their discovery, published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, was important because although many COVID-19 patients experience heart problems, it is not clear why. The study showed that SARS-CoV-2 not only could directly attack heart muscle cells but also quickly divide within them and damage their ability to beat.

During the interview, Sharma explained how the investigators used induced pluripotent stem cells, which scientists can engineer to make any cell in the body, to create enough heart cells for the study.

"We're able to mass-produce these contractile human heart cells, or cardiomyocytes, by the billions in our laboratory," he told Jacobs. Cedars-Sinai is a world leader in stem cell production.

Svendsen discussed the next steps needed to advance understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and the heart. He said it's one thing to directly expose the virus to the heart in a controlled environment, such as a petri dish. "But of course the big question is: Does this happen in patients? And we’re trying to get better models to answer that question more accurately," Svendsen told Jacobs.

To that end, the team is using a new grant from the American Heart Association to expand on the recent study's discoveries. The need for deeper knowledge of viruses is urgent, Svendsen added.

"We can't afford to have this happen to the world again," he said of the coronavirus pandemic. "And so I think we need to be more prepared and more ready next time around. The work we are doing now will set the ground for preventing future viral infections."

The team's COVID-19 study received coverage in numerous other media outlets, including Newsweek.

Click here to listen to the complete interview on FindingGeniusPodcast.com.