UCSF studies how coronavirus attacks the human heart

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For months, researchers at UCSF have been leaning on an army of volunteers and their cellphones to learn more about COVID-19. More than 20,0000 people are tracking their health data with a special app.

"From all over the world, all over the country, every state," says Greg Marcus, M.D., of UCSF.

Dr. Marcus says the COVID-19 Citizen Science study has been so successful they're now augmenting it with a second piece of technology. It's designed to hone in on the way the virus attacks the human heart.

"Dangerously slow heart rhythms, where there's an electrical block, have been observed," Dr. Marcus explains. "And very dangerously fast heart rhythms have been observed. And in fact there have been cases of individuals dying suddenly."

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Now a number of willing volunteers, who've tested positive for the coronavirus, are being asked to wear a special monitor. The device is known as the Zio patch. It was developed in the Bay Area by San Francisco-based iRhythm. Once placed on the chest, the patch is able to detect and record heart rhythms with minimum inconvenience to the patient.

"That gets this really rich data, that we'll be able to look at and be able to say what is this?" chief clinical officer Judy Lenane explained. "What happens to people's heart with COVID?"

The patch looks something like a flash drive embedded in soft flexible plastic. Lenane says it's typically worn for about two weeks.

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"And then what we do is we extract all the data from the device itself," she said. "We then use our FDA cleared, proprietary algorithms that are deep neural nets, so it's not just machine learned any more, it's deep learned."

Dr. Marcus adds, "Any readings that are unusual or abnormal, we will take a look at those strips."

He believes the cellphone tracking, combined with the rich, sophisticated data retrieved from the Zio patch, could help researchers to learn about both the virus's short and long term effect on the heart. Potentially life-saving information, provided in part by an army of volunteers, dedicated to fighting back against COVID-19.

If you're interested in participating in the UCSF Covid-19 Citizen Science Study, you can download the app at eureka.app.link/covid19 (if prompted, enter the study key: covid) or by texting "COVID" to 41411.

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