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Heart disease: new genetic links found

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Fifteen new genetic variants associated with heart disease have been identified by scientists.

The discovery brings the total number of confirmed genetic links to coronary artery disease (CAD) to 46.

Researchers pinpointed a further 104 genetic variants that are very likely to contribute to the condition.

CAD occurs when arteries supplying the heart muscle with blood become narrowed and obstructed as hard deposits build up on their walls.

The process, known as atherosclerosis, can lead to heart attacks.

Although unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of heart disease, whether or not someone will develop the condition is largely determined by inherited genes.

Study leader Dr Panos Deloukas, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, said: “Our research strengthens the argument that, for most of us, genetic risk to CAD is defined by many genetic variants, each of which has a modest effect.

“We went beyond traditional genetic association studies to explore the likely genetic signals associated with the disease and to use the information to identify biological pathways underlying CAD.

“Our next step is to design new analyses to also test rarer variants to provide a full catalogue of disease associations that, in the future, could identify individuals most at risk of a heart attack.”

A consortium of more than 180 scientists from around the world compared DNA from more than 60,000 heart disease sufferers and 130,000 apparently healthy individuals.

Their findings are published in the latest online issue of the journal Nature Genetics.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “The number of genetic variations that contribute to heart disease continues to grow with the publication of each new study. This latest research further confirms that blood lipids and inflammation are at the heart of the development of atherosclerosis, the process that leads to heart attacks and strokes.

“These studies don’t take us any closer to a genetic test to predict risk of heart disease, because this is determined by the subtle interplay between dozens, if not hundreds, of minor genetic variations.

“The real value of these results lies in the identification of biological pathways that lead to the development of heart disease. These pathways could be targets for the development of new drug treatments in the future.”

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