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Cholesterol-producing genes could reveal cardiovascular risk

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German researchers have pinpointed 20 genes linked to the body’s production of cholesterol which could help identify a person’s likelihood of suffering cardiovascular disease.

Scientists from the University of Heidelberg used a technique called RNA interference (RNAi) to effectively turn off the protein-making ‘instructions’ issued by a number of genes with similar patterns of behaviour to those involved in cholesterol regulation.

They managed to identify 20 genes described as ‘immediately relevant’ for maintaining cellular levels of cholesterol.

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that some of them influence levels of low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, in the blood - known to be a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease.

Study leader Dr Heiko Runz said: ‘High cholesterol in the blood is considered to be responsible for excess cardiovascular morbidity (illness) and mortality.

‘Blood cholesterol levels are controlled by cholesterol in cells. Therefore, some of the genes identified by us as regulators of cellular cholesterol in future studies might turn out to be disease genes that contribute to hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol) in some cases.

‘Moreover, the strategy we used could open a new avenue to identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease.’

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