'At the moment, we assess people for their risk of coronary heart disease in their 40s through NHS health checks,' said Professor Sir Nilesh Samani at the University of Leicester, a senior study author. 'But we know this is imprecise and also that coronary heart disease starts much earlier, several decades before symptoms develop. Therefore, if we are going to do true prevention, we need to identify those at increased risk much earlier.'
The Genomic Risk Score test (GRS) was devised by researchers by analysing the genomic data of 1.7 million genetic variants from 500,000 UK Biobank participants aged 40 to 69, including 22,000 who had coronary heart disease.
The test could also be employed nationwide on people much younger than the Biobank participants, even children or infants. Those who are at risk could then be educated on lifestyle and potential medication before any harm is caused, the researchers suggest.
According to the study, GRS is able to predict the genetic risk factors with high accuracy. Participants with a GRS in the top 20 percent were more than four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those with scores in the bottom 20 percent, even if there was no indication of high cholesterol or high blood pressure, the two most well-known risk factors.
'This study shows that the GRS can now identify individuals at risk,' said Professor Samani, who is also medical director of the British Heart Foundation. 'Applying it could provide a most cost-effective way of preventing the enormous burden of coronary heart disease, by helping doctors select patients who would most benefit from interventions.'
The researchers said that the GRS could be performed for only £38 per person. In the UK, medical costs related to heart and circulatory disease are estimated at around £9 billion per year. With 66,000 deaths annually in the UK alone, coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide and has severe implications for healthcare costs.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.