UCL News


New gene test takes us a step closer to identifying heart risk

26 February 2008


ucl.ac.uk/ugi/research/stevehumphries" target="_self">Professor Steve Humphries

UCL scientists today released findings of a DNA test that may eventually help identify individuals who are at future risk of heart disease.  

In a study group of 3000 British men, the test revealed a hidden group of genetically susceptible men whose actual risk of heart disease was much higher than predicted by traditional assessment methods, which measures risk indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.  

The UCL research team, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), followed the men for over 15 years. Over this time, more than 250 developed heart disease, and the majority of heart attacks occurred in men who had been predicted as being at moderate - rather than high - risk.

In the future, these genetic tests could be used to place people who are at intermediate risk, according to traditional risk assessment measures, into genetically susceptible or non-susceptible groups. Those who are susceptible would then be at a higher priority for lifestyle advice and preventative therapies.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the BHF said: "This research represents an early first step on the road towards defining how these genetic variations may increase a person's risk of having a heart attack and, most importantly, how to reduce that risk.

"We must now see intense research in this area to gain a better understanding of how to interpret these tests. Until we know more, patients should avoid undergoing genetic testing unless advised to do so by their doctor.

He continues: "We can all reduce our heart risk by living a healthy lifestyle - whether we have a genetic predisposition or not. The best thing we can do for our heart health is to not smoke, eat a healthy, balanced diet and take plenty of exercise."

The new test picked up genetic variations in a region of DNA on human chromosome 9, which has recently been identified as causing increased risk of heart disease. Genes near to this DNA make proteins that are involved with mechanisms that cause a cell to die - a process called apoptosis.  

It is thought that apoptosis of cells in blood vessels in the heart may cause rupture of fatty plaques, which can cause heart attack.  

Lead researcher, Professor Steve Humphries (UCL Medicine) commented: "An accurate genetic test will need to combine information from several or many different genes. It will also need to be looked at alongside lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  So there is still much more work to do before we can make the test available.