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New genes for heart disease found

Researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) have been part of an international study which found new genes that are associated with cholesterol levels.

The Nature paper found 59 new DNA regions that influence levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, key indicators of heart disease risk.

Dr John Whitfield from QIMR’s Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory said this is a significant finding. “Our study looked at the DNA and cholesterol readings of 100,000 individuals from European, East Asian, South Asian, and African American heritage.”

“High levels of LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) in the blood are an indicator of increased risk of heart attack and coronary heart disease. So the more we know about how our genes affect these levels, the more we can understand the risk of heart disease, and identify people who are at highest risk,” said Dr Whitfield.

Individually, the genes have only a small effect, but their cumulative effect leads to a higher risk of heart disease.

Dr Whitfield said the findings show that size does matter. “Previous studies with only a few thousand people’s DNA typically identified the genes that have a large effect because they are the easiest ones to find. By looking at 100,000 individuals’ DNA our study was more sensitive, allowing us to identify new regions.”

“It is the genes with smaller effect that can lead to better understanding about how the body processes fat, and how it becomes deposited on artery walls.”

“We hope this kind of work will help identify new targets for drugs, and help us understand how fats are transported, deposited in blood vessels and broken down in the body. The ultimate would be a genetic test that can help tailor treatments to each specific person, for example, which drug and how much of that drug would be best.”

The paper will be published in Nature in the 5 August edition and will be available online. (