The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has become a global pandemic as declared by World Health Organization (WHO). In the absence of an effective treatment in early 2020, different drugs with unknown effectiveness, including antimalarial hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), with or without concurrent administration with azithromycin (AZM), have been tested for treating COVID-19 patients with developed pneumonia. However, the efficacy and safety of HCQ and/or AZM have been questioned by recent clinical reports. Direct effects of these drugs on the human heart remain very poorly defined. To better understand the mechanisms of action of HCQ +/- AZM, we employed bioengineered human ventricular cardiac tissue strip (hvCTS) and anisotropic sheet (hvCAS) assays, made with human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived ventricular cardiomyocytes (hvCMs), which have been designed for measuring cardiac contractility and electrophysiology, respectively. Our hvCTS experiments showed that AZM induced a dose-dependent negative inotropic effect which could be aggravated by HCQ; electrophysiologically, as revealed by the hvCAS platform, AZM prolonged action potentials and induced spiral wave formations. Collectively, our data were consistent with reported clinical risks of HCQ and AZM on QTc prolongation/ventricular arrhythmias and development of heart failure. In conclusion, our study exposed the risks of HCQ/AZM administration while providing mechanistic insights for their toxicity. Our bioengineered human cardiac tissue constructs therefore provide a useful platform for screening cardiac safety and efficacy when developing therapeutics against COVID-19.
Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Ltd.