U of R researchers explore the effects of COVID-19 on heart health

News Release Release Date: March 10, 2021 6:00 a.m.

The University of Regina Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies is contributing to COVID-19 research by assessing the disease’s impacts on the heart with a device that can fit in the palm of your hand.

“We want to characterize the COVID heart,” said Patrick Neary, professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

Over the last decade Neary has worked with a small cardiac sensor, developed by LLA Technologies in Kelowna, B.C., to assess how the heart is affected in people who have experienced concussions. Neary’s PhD student, Jyotpal Singh, is now using the sensor to study an expanded patient group. He’s collecting data from people with cardiac injury, respiratory conditions, pneumonia, and those who have, or had COVID-19.

“We are casting quite a wide net to see how we can differentiate between different conditions using this small, cardiac sensor,” said Singh.

While the effects of COVID-19 disease on the lungs are well known, with critically ill patients put on ventilators to keep them breathing, much less is known about effects on the heart. The goal is to use the sensor to collect enough data to see if there is a noticeable pattern of cardiac response in COVID-19 patients. If there is then the sensor could become a useful tool when triaging patients in healthcare.

“We do know the heart is affected by COVID-19,” said Neary. “We're hoping to illustrate that quickly and effectively.”

Singh says the fact the device can be shipped anywhere also makes it effective for assessing patients in rural areas who might have to drive hours for an echocardiogram.

“The device is very simple to use,” said Singh. “We can instruct people over the phone. They can keep to their daily routines.”

To get devices on patients, Singh and Neary are partnering with physicians and cardiologists in hospitals and medical clinics in Regina, Alberta, and B.C. Neary says that care homes in Ontario have also expressed interest in being part of the research. Currently 100 sensors have been shipped, around half of Singh’s goal to have 200 participants in the study.

Singh also expects to make a connection between this study and previous research he co-authored two years ago on the effects of acute hypoxia (depletion of oxygen in the blood) on the heart. Using the Kinesiology lab’s hypoxia chamber to simulate an environment with less oxygen, participants wore the small cardiac sensor for 30 minutes. From the data, Singh concluded that hypoxia negatively affects the mechanics of the heart.

“Advancing science or technology fascinates me,” he says. “It’s exciting to take what we look at theoretically in the lab and apply it to a real-life setting in the healthcare system, where we can help try to ease stress.”

The research is funded through MITACS, a non-profit organization that partners with industry and provincial and federal governments to deliver research training and programs across the country. “We are also thankful that LLA Technologies agreed to give us these devices to use and collect the data,” said Neary.

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About the University of Regina

The University of Regina—with campuses located on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories, the ancestral lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda nations and the homeland of the Métis—is a comprehensive, mid-sized university that traces its roots back to the creation of Regina College in 1911. Today, more than 16,600 students study within the University's 10 faculties, 25 academic departments/schools, 18 research centres and institutes, and three federated colleges (Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, and Luther College). The University of Regina has an established reputation for excellence and innovative programs that lead to undergraduate, master, and doctoral degrees. The University of Regina was named the Research University of the Year in 2020 (undergraduate category) by Research Infosource.


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