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Since the beginning of the pandemic, research into how COVID-19 damages the airways has been widely discussed and explored. Now a team from Germany is using three-dimensional x-rays of the organ to give an initial insight into how the coronavirus can affect the heart.

Researchers from the University of Göttingen and the Hannover Medical School published their study this week in the journal eLife and discovered significant changes in the heart muscle tissue of people who have died of COVID-19.

The researchers analyzed images of the heart tissue structure in a high-resolution format from synchrotron radiation or a very bright X-ray image and displayed them in 3D.

They observed significant changes at the capillary level in the heart, affecting the tiny blood vessels in the heart muscle tissue. reveals a network full of splits, branches and loops that had been “chaotically reshaped by the formation and splitting of new vessels”. according to a release.

These changes are the first direct glimpses of the damage COVID-19 can cause in the body known as “intussusceptive angiogenesis”. or neovascularization in the tissue, depending on the publication.

In order to obtain such a detailed 3D representation of the capillary network, the researchers had to laboriously label all image data manually so that a computer could render it using machine learning methods.

“The parameters obtained from this then showed a completely different quality compared to healthy tissue or even to diseases such as severe flu or common myocarditis,” said study directors Tim Salditt and Danny Jonigk in the press release.

The study says their procedure could be done in other clinics to aid doctors with routine diagnostics. In the future, the researchers want to expand the use of synchrotron radiation to create automated tools for diagnosing patients with other diseases.

Vascular network (red) in healthy heart tissue (left) and in severe COVID-19 (right). A faulty new formation of the network as a result of Covid-19 results in numerous branches, splits and even loops in the capillaries, which can be mathematically analyzed. (M. Reichardt, P. Müller Jensen, T. Salditt / Handout)

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