Discovery may calculate heart disease risk

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A throng of newly identified genes partially responsible for high blood pressure could sound a warning to at-risk patients.
Credit: JGI / Tom Grill / Getty Images

More than 100 gene regions associated with high blood pressure have been validated in a new study. The work, published in Nature Genetics by an international team, could potentially let doctors identify patients most at risk and advise them on appropriate lifestyle changes to drop their risk of heart attack.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a leading factor for heart disease and stroke worldwide. It’s caused by a complex interplay between genetics and lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol and exercise.

To pick out genetic variants that contribute to hypertension, the researchers compared nearly 10 million genetic variants from 420,000 participants in the UK Biobank repository with their blood pressure.

They validated 107 gene regions and from these, developed a genetic “risk score” to predict a person’s risk of stroke and coronary disease.

The higher a person’s risk score, the more likely they were to suffer hypertension at 50 years old. If such a genetic risk score could be taken early in life, an at-risk individual might exercise more, eat better and drink less alcohol, for instance.

On top of this, the work gives researchers loads of new therapeutic targets, says study co-author Mark Caulfield from Queen Mary University of London.

“Finding 107 new genetic regions linked to blood pressure almost doubles the amount of genes we can evaluate to target for drug treatment.”

Genetic testing to provide risk scores isn’t widely available yet for any common diseases, but it could one day become routine, says Imperial College London’s Paul Elliott, who was also co-author of the study: “We cannot help our genetic makeup, but we can help our lifestyles and, in future, we may be able to alter our lifestyles while knowing whether we are at a genetic advantage or disadvantage.”

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