Indian-origin doctor identifies heart attack gene

January 3rd, 2009 - 6:58 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 3 (IANS) Millions of people around the world who are at risk of suffering a heart attack stand to benefit after scientists pinpointed the gene responsible for early hardening of arteries, according to a report published Saturday. Millions of people under the age of 40 are unaware that they suffer from early coronary artery disease, which in many cases leads to heart attacks in later life.

Now scientists led by Svati Shah at the Duke University Medical School in North Carolina say they believe they have pinpointed a gene or marker that can help predict in advance whether someone is at increased risk.

They believe that this could lead to a test to identify the latent threat of hardened arteries so that patients could be given dietary advice and other treatment before too much damage is done, the Daily Telegraph reported Saturday.

“These young patients are a vulnerable population on whom coronary artery disease has a significant long-term impact, but they are particularly hard to identify and therefore to initiate preventive therapies for,” said Shah, co-author of the study that has been published by the US Public Library of Science journal.

“These and other genetic findings may help us in the future to identify these patients prior to development of coronary artery disease or their first heart attack.”

The scientists focussed on a gene known as neuropeptide Y (NPY), a protein linked to the control of appetite and feeding behaviour.

The research, led by Shah and Elizabeth Hauser, found evidence for six related variations in the NPY gene that show evidence of transmission from generation to generation and association across a population of early-onset coronary artery disease patients.

After evaluating 1,000 families for coronary artery disease, researchers found a strong link between the mutant gene and those with actual heart disease or ancestral history of the disease.

“If you had 1 or 2 copies of this mutant version of the gene, there could be a change in NPY level,” Shah said.

“The concept is that small changes over time can promote atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) at a very young age,” she added.

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