Scientists a step closer to preventing heart attacks as they identify high cholesterol genes
Largest-ever genetic study of cholesterol gives insight into those most at risk of heart diseasePaves the way for personalised drugs and treatments
16:50 GMT, 11 October 2012
Scientists have identified 21 new genes linked to cholesterol levels, further paving the way for dedicated drugs and treatments or heart disease.
In the largest-ever genetic study of cholesterol, they found these genetic variations were associated with changes in ‘good’ HDL and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
One of the most striking findings was that some variants were more likely to appear in men, others in women.
Scientists have identified 21 new genes linked to cholesterol levels. High levels of the fat in the blood may cause the arteries to narrow, raising the risk of a heart attack
The genetic mutations of more than 90,000 people were analysed in the study, which was published in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
Researchers say their findings expand the list of potential targets for drugs and other treatments for heart disease caused by high cholesterol, a leading global cause of death and disability.
Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer. Around 270,000 people a year suffer a heart attack and nearly one in three die before they reach hospital.
Fatty diets, lack of exercise and smoking are all key risk factors.
Cholesterol is a type of fat produced by the liver that is essential to help the body produce hormones, absorb vitamin D and make bile to digest foods.
It is transported in the blood by tiny ‘couriers’, called lipoproteins.
LDL carries cholesterol away from the liver and dumps it in major blood vessels, where it can cause a life-threatening blockage.
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, has the job of transporting cholesterol back to the liver to be safely disposed of.
Fatty diets, lack of exercise and smoking are all key risk factors for high cholesterol, which affects one in three adults in the UK
Current guidelines in the UK recommend keeping total cholesterol below 5mmols per litre, a measurement of how much fat there is in each litre of blood in the body, with LDL accounting for no more than 3mmols/litre.
But an estimated 20 per cent of patients with excessive LDL levels are classed as resistant to statins – the drugs taken by around seven million people in the UK to control cholesterol.
'While each of the genetic variants has a small effect, their cumulative effect can significantly add up to put people at risk for disease,' said one of the study's authors, Dr Fotios Drenos, of University College London.
Dr Hélène Wilson, research advisor at
the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This large study has provided us
with a valuable insight into our genes, which could potentially help us
in the fight to beat heart disease.
'This research reinforces the importance
of deciphering the genetic code to allow us to explore new avenues for
better targeted drugs and treatments.
Dr Wlison added: 'We now need to see additional studies to build on these findings and further investigate the impact of this discovery on the nation’s heart health.'
Dr Robert Cramb, head of the board of trustees for the cholesterol charity HEART UK added: 'This is an important landmark study, but although the genes are identified, linking them to specific disease and then designing treatments, will take some time before clinical benefit may be seen.'