According to an investigation set to be published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, an international group of investigators report the findings of five new genes that affect risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. The investigation was funded by the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research in the UK, with added funding from the NIH in the U.S. as well as other funding sources in Europe. The research was also supported by the Leicester NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Cardiovascular Disease, based at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.

CAD is the most frequent cause of premature death and disability worldwide. In the future these discoveries could aid in the development of new treatments and enhance prediction of coronary artery disease.

The researchers analyzed 49,094 genetic variants in 2,100 genes of cardiovascular relevance, in 15,596 cases of coronary artery disease and 34,992 controls (11,202 cases and 30,733 controls of European decent and 4,394 cases and 4,259 controls of South Asian decent). The researchers then copied their most important discoveries in a further 17,121 CAD cases and 40,473 controls.

Co-principal researcher Professor Nilesh Samani, (British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology University of Leicester, UK) explained:

“The findings add to the growing list of genes, now over 30 that affect risk of CAD and heart attacks. The findings provide new insights into and understanding of the causal biological pathways that cause heart disease, and particularly highlight the role of lipids and inflammation.”

Professor Hugh Watkins (co-principal investigator, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Oxford) said:

“Although the effects of the new genetic variants that we have identified are individually small, in the order of 5-10% per copy, new treatments that are developed on the basis of the findings could have a much broader effect, as we have learnt, for example with statins.”

Professor John Danesh (co-principal investigator, University of Cambridge) commented: “This is one of the first genetic studies of CAD to include a significant proportion of subjects of South Asian origin. This ethnic group has a higher risk of CAD. Our study shows that many of the genes that affect risk of CAD do so similarly in European Caucasians as in South Asians.”

Dr Adam Butterworth (University of Cambridge) who co-ordinated the analysis stated:

“One of the other strengths of our study is that in the literature there were a lot of genes which had been suggested to be associated with CAD based on small studies. Our very large study has allowed us to clarify this literature, and show that most of these reported associations are spurious.”

Written by Grace Rattue