In what is being billed as the largest genetic study ever conducted, British scientists report they have spotted more than 500 genes that play a role in blood pressure.
The research, which involved more than 1 million people, expands the understanding of the genetic factors that determine blood pressure and could lead to new treatments for the condition, according to researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London.
"This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date," said study author Mark Caulfield, director of the National Institute for Health Research Barts Biomedical Research Centre.
"We now know that there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure. This provides us with many new insights into how our bodies regulate blood pressure, and has revealed several new opportunities for future drug development," he said.
"With this information, we could calculate a person's genetic risk score for high blood pressure in later life," Caulfield explained in a Queen Mary University news release. He is a professor and researcher at the university.
Doctors could then suggest lifestyle interventions, including weight loss, lower alcohol consumption and exercise, for those at genetic risk for high blood pressure, he added.
High blood pressure, which is a risk factor for stroke and heart disease, claimed almost 8 million lives around the world in 2015 alone, the researchers noted.
For the study, they examined the DNA of more than 1 million people and cross-referenced their genetic information with their blood pressure.
After comparing the people at highest risk for high blood pressure with those at lowest risk, the team calculated that all the genetic variants linked with the condition were associated with blood pressure that's roughly 13 mm Hg higher.
Among the newly identified blood pressure genes were variants already tied to other conditions, including the APOE gene linked to heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. The researchers noted some genes also played a role within the adrenal glands, and in body fat.
Study co-leader Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London, said, "Identifying these kinds of genetic signals will increasingly help us to split patients into groups based on their risk of disease."
The findings also pointed to some possible new treatment approaches for high blood pressure. One of the newly found gene regions linked to high blood pressure is already targeted by the type 2 diabetes drug canagliflozin (Invokana, Sulisent). This drug and medicines used to treat other diseases could be safely and inexpensively repurposed for the management of high blood pressure, the researchers said.
The findings were published Sept. 17 in the journal Nature Genetics.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on blood pressure genetics.
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