Imaging shows severe COVID-19 can damage muscle tissue in heart

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Scientists found significant vascular damage at the microscopic level in patients who had died from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in a study recently published in the journal eLife.

The study was led by Tim Salditt, PhD, professor at the University from Göttingen, and Danny Jonigk, MD, professor at Hannover Medical School. Using synchrotron radiation, an extremely bright form of x-ray radiation which displays three-dimensional (3D) results, researchers achieved high resolution, 3D images of human formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) heart tissue. They compared samples of healthy human heart tissue with the heart tissue of patients who had died from severe forms of COVID-19, influenzas, and coxsackie virus infections.

In comparison with the control group, as well as the tissue from those with influenza and coxsackie virus, images of heart tissue from COVID-19 patients showed significant caliber changes of blood-filled capillaries. In addition, COVID-19 samples showed distinct differences in vasculature, including a high degree of branching, changes in vessel diameters, and intravascular pillars. Previous studies made similar observations in the vessel formations of COVID-19 infected lung tissue and diagnosed it as intussusceptive angiogenesis (IA).

These results were the first proven indication that IA is involved in cardiac COVID-19. In addition, researchers analyzed FFPE tissue free of destruction by converting tissue patterns into abstract mathematical values using a small x-ray source. With FFPE embedded tissue archives plentiful in pathology labs worldwide, this new method of analysis paves the way for future disease research.