Jin O-Uchi, MD, PhD, FAHA, FCVS, has always been interested in magnesium (iron) and its effects on the human heart. 

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a pre-existing cardiovascular disease prominent in patients who suffer from serious cardiac damage during their fight against COVID-19. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying whether magnesium can make a difference in high-risk patients.

“When we looked at the situation, we realized that this was something that we could do to help—even without being virologists. We asked, ‘How can we resolve the issue that people with cardiovascular disease have a higher death rate for COVID-19?’” said Dr. O-Uchi, an assistant professor in the U of M Medical School’s Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology.

Magnesium’s known cardioprotective effects include anti-arrhythmic, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects. For instance, it has been suggested to reduce risk for atrial fibrillation, which is one type of common cardiac arrhythmia. Cardiac arrhythmia refers to a group of conditions that cause the heart to beat irregular, too slowly or too quickly.

Early data shows that COVID-19 produces ion channels, thus changing the function of the infected human cells. Magnesium has a profound impact as it blocks the “viral ion channel” in the body while protecting against oxidation. Oxidation is another well-known cause of risk for abnormal cardiovascular function.

With the help of a CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grant, Dr. O-Uchi and colleagues across the U of M are analyzing whether the viral ion channels encoded by SARS-CoV-2 genes in the heart increases the risk of sudden cardiac death and cardiac damage in COVID-19 patients.

“We are working to protect the people who are highly vulnerable and hope that we can breach the gap until a vaccine is available,” Dr. O-Uchi said.

According to the prior studies from University researchers, most people may require around 400 milligrams of magnesium oxide per day to efficiently increase the magnesium concentration in their blood. Although the use of magnesium oxide is approved by the Federal Drug Administration, additional approval must be given to take a higher amount every day. 

Researchers hope to establish efficacy. That way, those who are at risk from COVID-19 can obtain the dosage they need. Previous trials provided data regarding how much magnesium concentration could be increased in a person’s blood. The safety of the research was already well established, making it easy for researchers at the U of M to get approval.

Dr. O-Uchi recently received a new grant from the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine and will now collaborate with epidemiologists and the bioengineering team at the University to validate the effect of magnesium and bring it to market.