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Genetics and lifestyle studied

Cape Town - A link between brain disorders and cardiovascular disease is being investigated by Stellenbosch University researchers.

In a study titled Shared Roots, the university and the SA National Bioinformatics Institute have started recruiting people with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease to see if genetics or lifestyle has a role in the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases among these patients.

A study earlier this year revealed men are worse than women at remembering to complete tasks. Picture: AFP. Credit: AFP

The study will focus on coloured people because of the high incidence of these diseases in that population.

Leigh van den Heuvel, the project manager of the study, said another reason for selecting one race group was to keep the genetic analysis simple.

“As the genetic analysis is a main component of the study we have had to focus the study on a single ethnic group as the analysis becomes too complex and the sample size required impractically large if multiple ethnicities are included.

“Due to the high incidence of cardiovascular disease, as well as the neuropsychiatric disorders being studied in individuals of mixed ancestry, we decided to focus this study on individuals of mixed ancestry.”

About 600 people are taking part in the three-year research, which is funded by the Medical Research Council.

Van den Heuvel said while neuropsychiatric disorders were underpinned by “complex and dynamic gene-environment interactions”, existing evidence showed that people with such disorders had higher rates of heart conditions compared to the general population. But the link between the diseases was poorly understood so far.

A better understanding of the factors influencing this link was needed to design targeted interventions aimed at reducing illness and death, she said.

The study would also include healthy people as a control group, and participants would have to make at least three visits to the study sites, either at Stikland Hospital or Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg medical campus.

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