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Blood pressure genes discovery tops cardiovascular and stroke research in 2011

The American Heart Association/Stroke Association has named research co-led by Queen Mary, University of London in their top 10 advances in cardiovascular and stroke research for 2011.

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The research, published in Nature in September last year represents a major advance in understanding of the inherited influences on blood pressure and offers new potential therapeutic targets for preventing heart disease and stroke – the biggest cause of death worldwide.

The international collaborative study, co-led by Toby Johnson, Patricia Munroe and Mark Caulfield from Queen Mary’s Barts and The London Medical School, discovered 16 new gene regions influencing blood pressure. It involved 351 scientists from 234 institutions based in 24 countries around the world, analysing data on more than 270,000 people, to find genetic variations in each person’s DNA associated with high or low blood pressure.

Professor Mark Caulfield said: “It is an honour to have our research named in the top 10 advances for both cardiovascular and stroke research for 2011.”

Professor Patricia Munroe said: “Discovering these new gene regions represented a major leap forward in our understanding of the inherited influences on blood pressure – a welcome finding for more than a quarter of the adult population in the UK with high blood pressure.”

Blood pressure is influenced by a combination of lifestyle factors and genes and even small changes in blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack and over one billion people worldwide have high blood pressure – hypertension.

The researchers combined the effects of genetic variation in all 28 gene regions and showed that these impact upon the risk of developing hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and structural changes in the heart.

The combined effect of these variations on blood pressure is similar to the effect of a standard blood pressure lowering medicine. Importantly, they showed that genetic effects on blood pressure are broadly similar in people of European, East Asian, South Asian, and African ancestries.

These findings were made possible by funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, and the National Institute for Health Research.

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