Scientists find 95 genes for blood-fats and heart disease

New research involving scientists from Queen Mary, University of London has identified 95 genes that are linked to abnormal levels of blood-fats cholesterol and triglyceride, both which are  linked to heart disease.

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Professors Mark Caulfield and Patricia Munroe
Professors Mark Caulfield and Patricia Munroe

The research could lead to new ways of treating people with naturally high cholesterol levels, a condition which is strongly linked to an increased risk of heart disease, responsible for nearly one in twenty deaths worldwide.

Figures from the British Heart Foundation show that 66 per cent of people in the UK have a high blood cholesterol level, which scientists say is treatable with modern drugs and can be controlled with regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Published in the journal Nature, researchers Professors Patricia Munroe and Mark Caulfield and Dr Toby Johnson from the William Harvey Research Institute and international colleagues examined genetic information from over 100,000 European people and identified 95 genetic variations, some of which predispose someone to a higher risk of developing heart disease. Several of these variants affect blood-fats in East Asian, South Asian and African American people also.

Research leader Professor Munroe said: "This study is a 'tour de force' in lipid research and we anticipate these results will lead to better understanding about how the body processes fat, how it becomes deposited on artery walls, and the direct relationship of blood-fats to heart disease"

The scientists said that 59 of these genetic variations were not previously known to them and that, taken together, all of these 95 variations account for between a quarter and a third of the variance in blood-fat levels explained by genes.

The genetic variations pinpointed by this study include some that explain how cholesterol is broken down in the body and some known targets of cholesterol-lowering drugs. In the future, scientists hope that drugs can be tailor-made to suit a person's particular genes - so-called "personalised medicine".

People develop abnormal cholesterol levels thanks to a combination of the genes that they are born with and the influence of diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking. Combined, these factors can cause a 'furring' of blood vessels, which can lead to coronary artery disease and the increased chance of having a heart attack

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Joel Winston
Faculty Communications Manager (Medicine and Dentistry)