College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Gene find raises hope of heart risk test

Scientists have found new genes linked with high cholesterol, a study has shown.

The findings pave the way for a blood test that could predict who is at risk of developing heart disease.

High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol cause harm by clogging the arteries.

Experts say the study, published in the journal Nature, shows for the first time that it is possible to predict who is likely to develop high cholesterol using a genetic test.

The findings may also lead to new cholesterol-lowering drugs that could help people at risk of heart disease.

Global research

An international group of scientists, including researchers at the University, studied the DNA of 100,000 volunteers to pinpoint which genes might be involved in controlling cholesterol.

The team identified 95 genes that had an effect, of which 59 weren’t previously known to be involved in cholesterol biology.

People carrying many variants in these genes are 14 times more likely to have very high cholesterol than people without them.

Apart from highlighting a number of new potential drug targets, this landmark study is the first to show that we can predict from our genes who is likely to have very high cholesterol levels. As genes are present from birth, this would allow those at high risk to modify their lifestyle before the effects of high cholesterol damage their heart.”

Dr Jim WilsonRoyal Society University Research Fellow at the University

Coronary heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, behind one-in-four male and one-in-six female deaths.

High cholesterol levels create fatty deposits inside arteries that can trigger problems by breaking off and blocking blood flow.

The international team of scientists was led by Harvard University and included researchers from the Orkney Complex Disease Study (ORCADES) and the Croatian 10,001 Dalmatians study.

Both of these collaborations are led from the University.