Cardiovascular disease is not only the number one killer in the United States, but is the number one killer globally. Despite education and research, heart disease remains firmly planted in first place. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 17 million lives are lost each year as a result of heart-related disease.
Numerous risk factors contribute to the development of heart disease such as age, family history, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, weight, diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption. Currently, heart disease is treated proactively by reducing as many risk factors as possible. Once heart disease develops, medical protocols and intervention may be required. Because heart disease impacts so many people, researchers are constantly looking for new ways to not only treat heart disease, but predict with more accuracy those who are at greatest risk. According to the results of a new genome study, the answer to a heart healthy future may lie in our genes.
In the largest genome study of its kind, an international group of researchers examined the genetic profiles of more than 80,000 individuals. Of those, 60,000 were known to be heart health while 22,000 had known heart disease (heart attack or confirmed heart disease). The profiles were from persons of European descent. The profiles examined represented data collected from 14 prior genome studies.
Researchers identified an additional 13 previously unknown genes related to heart disease. Of the newly identified genes, only three are directly linked to known risk factors for heart disease. Prior to this study, there were 23 known gene variants linked to heart disease. Of those, several are linked to known risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure (one variant) and low density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels (seven gene variants).
Researchers believe that the discovery of the new genes opens up new opportunities for research to understand how heart disease develops and explore new treatment options.