Researchers develop new genetic tool to identify people at risk of coronary heart disease

A new genetic risk score that could help to identify individuals at risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) much earlier and potentially improve its prevention has been developed by a team including a University of Leicester Professor in research part-funded by the British Heart Foundation and the NIHR.

The new test is a result of an international collaboration involving Professor Sir Nilesh Samani from our Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, who has recently been appointed BHF Medical Director, and researchers in Australia, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Genetic factors have long been known to make a significant contribution to CHD risk. Recent advances in genetics have led to the identification of many Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs – very small differences in our DNA that vary from person to person. The research, published today in the European Heart Journal, shows how using this new knowledge could pave the way for earlier and more personalised preventative interventions.

BHF Professor Sir Nilesh Samani said: “This is the first really large study showing the potential benefits of using a genetic risk score over and above current methods to identify people at increased risk of coronary heart disease. We already know that CHD starts at an early age, several decades before symptoms develop, and preventative measures should ideally be applied much earlier, especially to those who are at increased risk.

“Unfortunately, current clinical risk scores are not good at evaluating risk until middle-age. On the other hand the GRS, which is based on your DNA, can be applied at any age. Further studies are needed to demonstrate the precise clinical value of this approach in different populations. However earlier identification of people who would most benefit from lifestyle changes and medication to reduce their risk of a heart attack could save countless lives.”

Research at the University of Leicester not only informs its teaching, it is inseparably intertwined with it. This relationship sees researchers bring their innovation into the classroom and its students inspired to research and is at the heart of Leicester’s ambition to pioneer a distinctive elite of universities.