Heart Health

New "Heart Attack Gene" Discovered

Researchers have found a previously undiscovered gene variation that reduces heart attack risk, and the discovery could lead to better treatment of high cholesterol and related disorders.

The finding, by a team from the University of Michigan and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, took six years of analysis.

The investigators, whose finding was reported in the journal Nature Genetics, scanned genetic information from thousands of Norwegians, focusing on variations in genes that affect the risk of heart disease. Most of the genes they found were already known to do so.

But one gene, called TM6SF2, hadn’t been known to affect blood lipids. Yet among a minority of the participants who carried a particular change in that gene, blood lipid levels were healthier. Those subjects also had a lower heart attack risk. The same results held true in a study of mice.

“Cardiovascular disease presents such a huge impact on people’s lives that we should leave no stone unturned in the search for the genes that cause heart attack,” says Cristen Willer, Ph.D., the senior author of the paper and an assistant professor of Internal Medicine, Human Genetics and Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics at the U-M Medical School.

“While genetic studies that focused on common variations may explain as much as 30 percent of the genetic component of lipid disorders, we still don’t know where the rest of the genetic risk comes from,” Willer adds. “This approach of focusing on protein-changing variation may help us zero in on new genes faster.”

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