An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a swelling of the main blood vessel (aorta) in the abdomen. If the swelling gets too large the aorta can burst and this is often fatal. The only treatment for AAA is high-risk surgery. In the UK around 3,000 people die from AAA and around 7,000 operations are performed to repair AAA each year. The NHS screens men at age 65 for an AAA and most AAAs that are diagnosed are small (low risk) so are simply monitored by regular ultrasound scans. Over a number of years most small AAAs grow into large (high risk) AAAs. Eventually most men are offered surgery to repair their AAA.
Some AAAs grow quickly and some grow slowly. Little is known about why AAAs form and even less is known about how a small (low risk) AAA grows to become a large (high risk) AAA. It is impossible to predict which AAAs will grow quickly and which will grow slowly We know that people’s genetics have an important influence on their risk of developing an AAA and we know a little about what genes might be responsible for this risk. We don’t know however if these genes are also linked to the speed at which AAA grow or if there are other genes that influence AAA growth.
The aim of this research is to find out if AAA growth is influenced by genetics or not.
In 2011 we started inviting men with small AAAs to join a research study to find out more about how AAAs grow. Over 4,000 men are now involved in this study. Funded by the British Heart Foundation this programme of research will examine the genes of the men in our study to find out if there are any genetic influences on AAA growth and if these can be used to predict AAA growth. We will combine the data that we generate from our study with that from colleagues around the world to increase the power of our research. We will look for new genes linked to AAA growth and also test genes that we know about to see if they are linked to AAA growth. Genetic studies can also be used to see if there are any existing medications that might be used to prevent AAA growth and this will be a major part of our research plan.