Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have created a new tool that can calculate the genetic risk of people likely to develop coronary heart disease, an advance that may pave way for early and personalised preventive interventions.
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 (SNPs) - very small differences in our DNA that vary from person to person.
By looking at over 49,000 SNPs, researchers created a score, known as a genomic risk score (GRS) and showed that the higher the GRS the higher the future risk of CHD.
People with a GRS in the top 20 per cent had an over 5-fold higher lifetime risk of CHD than those in the bottom 20 per cent.
The study from the University of Leicester in the UK is the first to look at a much larger number of SNPs to give a fuller picture of an individual's genetic risk of developing CHD.
Currently, clinical risk scores are based on known risk factors for CHD such as cholesterol level, having high blood pressure or diabetes and smoking.
However, such scores are imprecise and unable to identify a large proportion of people who develop CHD.
The researchers showed that the GRS was independent of the clinical risk scores and by combining the two risk score tools they were better able to predict people who were at risk of developing CHD in the next 10 years.
"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," said Sir Nilesh Samani from the University of Leicester.
"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," Samani said.
"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," he said.
"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," he added.
The research was published in the European Heart Journal.