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Previously unknown heart disease risks found in landmark gene study

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Coronary artery disease

Researchers have discovered 13 new genes that contribute to coronary heart disease in what they say is a major advance in understanding genetic aspects of heart disease. The scientists found genes that cause coronary artery disease (CAD) that are separate from what is already known about risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Gene discovery could eliminate heart disease altogether

The findings suggest the incidence of heart disease will be significantly reduced and may even disappear within the next 50 years.

In addition to finding 13 new genes that contribute to coronary artery disease, the researchers, from University of Ottawa Heart Institute, confirmed 10 previously identified genes that cause heart disease in the general population, unrelated to ethnicity, gender or race.

Robert Roberts, President and CEO, University of Ottawa Heart Institute says, "This is a landmark result because we have identified so many genes and most operate using completely unknown mechanisms to us right now.”

Among the 23 genes now known to cause cardiovascular disease, only 6 are linked to cholesterol and high blood pressure, underscoring the complex nature of heart disease.

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The findings come from the CARDIoGRAM (Coronary Artery Disease Genome-wide Replication and Meta-Analysis) study 140,000 people of European descent.

"The consortium examined more than 10 times the number of samples than the largest study ever published, so we magnified the power to detect small genetic variations," said Dr. Roberts. "Now our job is to understand how these genes work, develop a new group of drugs to target them and identify people who will benefit most to reduce their risk of heart attack and other cardiac events."

In the study, one third of the population had heart disease. The scientists examined genetic samples from a database that included research centers in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Heart Institute.

The Ottawa Heart Institute scientists previously identified 9p21, the first gene found as a risk factor for heart disease.

For years, cholesterol alone was blamed for cardiovascular disease, but now researchers understand 50 percent of risk factors are gene related.

In the landmark study, researchers discovered 13 new genes related to heart disease that are independent and previously unknown risks for coronary artery disease. The next step is to discover how the genes operate to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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