Twenty-one genes linked with cholesterol and other fat (lipid) levels in the blood have been identified by a consortium of over 180 researchers worldwide. The study analysed genetic data from over 90,000 people.
'To date this is the largest number of DNA samples ever used in a study for lipid traits', said Dr Brendan Keating, assistant professor at the Centre for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, USA, and senior author of the study. 'It clearly shows the value of using broad-ranging global scientific collaborations to yield new gene signals'.
Abnormal levels of lipids in the blood are linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes. Changes in different kinds of fats, such as low-density lipoproteins (LDL or 'bad' cholesterol), high density-lipoproteins (HDL or 'good' cholesterol), total cholesterol and triglycerides, may be involved.
The consortium used the Cardiochip, a gene analysis tool invented by Dr Keating in 2006. The device assists in finding specific genetic variations in genes associated with blood lipid levels and cardiovascular disease.
Senior author Dr Fotios Drenos of University College London, UK, explained: 'While each of the genetic variants has a small effect on the specific lipid trait, their cumulative effect can significantly add up to put people at risk for disease'.
These findings further our understanding of how genetic variations influence the lipids in our blood. 'This large study has provided us with a valuable insight into our genes which could potentially help us in the fight to beat heart disease [and] allow us to explore new avenues for better targeted drugs and treatments', said research adviser at the British Heart Foundation, Dr Hélène Wilson, to the Mail Online.
A word of caution was added by Dr Robert Cramb, head of the board of trustees for the cholesterol charity Heart UK: 'This is an important landmark study, but although the genes are identified, linking them to specific disease and then designing treatments, will take some time before clinical benefit may be seen', as reported by the Mail Online.
Lead author Dr Folkert Asselbergs of University Medical Centre in the Netherlands says additional studies to investigate the impact of these genes on cardiovascular disease are already underway.
The study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.