London - Heart disease is linked to just a few rogue genes as well as lifestyle choices, landmark research into Britain’s biggest killer has found.
The 18 genes that raise the risk of cardiac problems, from heart attacks to hardening of the arteries, have been pinpointed in three studies involving hundreds of scientists worldwide.
The breakthrough opens the door to ways of treating and even preventing heart disease, which is to blame for one in eight deaths around the world - including more than 90,000 a year in the UK.
Heart attacks alone kill one Briton every six minutes and cost the economy £9-billion a year.
The potential of the findings is so great that heart disease could be eradicated within 50 years, say researchers. The discovery, detailed in the journal Nature Genetics, more than doubles the number of known heart disease genes. Some of the newly discovered genes affect cholesterol, blood pressure and other processes important to heart health - but how many of the others damage the heart and arteries is, as yet, a mystery.
This has excited the scientists because it suggests there are important causes of heart disease yet to be found - and that drugs to combat the effects of the genes could one day make a huge improvement to health.
Dr Robert Roberts, of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canada, said: “This is a landmark result because we have identified so many genes and most operate using completely unknown mechanisms to us right now. 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.”
Professor Nilesh Samani, of the University of Leicester, who co-led the largest of the studies, said: “Understanding how these genes work, which is the next step, will vastly improve our knowledge of how the disease develops, and could lead to new treatments.”
The 18 genes were discovered in three studies in which almost 300 scientists from around the world, including many Britons, analysed the DNA of more than 200,000 people.
They focused on genetic links to the narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. This narrowing, caused by the build up of fatty deposits or plaques, raises the odds of a host of ills, from blood clots to angina, heart attacks, heart failure and irregular heartbeats.
Dr Thomas Quertermous, of Stanford University, in the US, said that drugs tailored to stop the blood vessels from becoming clogged up could “profoundly reduce the risk of a heart attack”.
Professor Hugh Watkins, of Oxford University, who co-led one of the studies, said the first new drugs could be on the market in under a decade.
Some of the North American researchers said the breakthrough meant we were “inching closer” to a genetic test that will tell a person their risk of a heart attack.
However, for most people, other factors such as smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise can play a much greater role in causing heart attacks. - Daily Mail