Cholesterol-Regulating Genes Could be ‘switched off’ to Reduce Heart Attacks
Scientists have uncovered 20 genes which increase people’s risk of having a heart attack – raising the prospect of ‘exciting’ new treatments in the coming years.
The genes regulate the amount of cholesterol – a chemical which increases the risk of heart disease – produced by the cells.
The finding could possibly lead to the production of medicines to ‘switch off’ the production of so-called bad cholesterol.
But experts warned that such a breakthrough was at least a decade off.
Knowledge of the new genes could also enable doctors to target health promotion advice at people with the ‘cholesterol control’ genes.
Study leader Dr Heiko Runz, from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, said: ‘High cholesterol in the blood is considered to be responsible for excess cardiovascular morbidity (illness) and mortality.
‘Blood cholesterol levels are controlled by cholesterol in cells. Therefore, some of the genes identified by us as regulators of cellular cholesterol in future studies might turn out to be disease genes that contribute to high cholesterol in some cases.
‘Moreover, the strategy we used could open a new avenue to identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease.’
Mike Rich, executive director of the Blood Pressure Association, said: ‘Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the UK so we welcome research which might offer new ways to target its associated risk factors.
‘Being able to “switch off” the production of “bad cholesterol” is an exciting proposition and may have implications for other causes of cardiovascular disease.
‘However more research is needed to show how this could be translated from the laboratory to become a practical means of preventing or controlling high cholesterol.’
Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation warned that any drugs to switch off cholesterol production would be ‘a few years’ away.
‘There is no need to get too excited about this yet, and we are a long way from it leading to any treatments,’ he said.
The study is reported in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The researchers looked for genes with similar patterns of behaviour to those already known to be involved in cholesterol regulation.
They then tested the activity of the 100 most promising candidates with a scientific technique called RNA interference (RNAi).
The technique uses tiny bits of the genetic molecule RNA to block the protein-making ‘instructions’ issued by genes. In this way, the function of genes can be assessed by effectively switching them off.
The strategy identified 20 genes described as ‘immediately relevant’ for maintaining cellular levels of cholesterol.
Some them are thought to influence levels of low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, in the blood, a major heart disease risk factor.
Of the 20 genes, 12 were previously unknown. The remainder were believed to be linked to lipid metabolism – the process by which the body breaks down fat.
Source:Mail Online. July 8, ’09
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