One-off genetic test to predict heart attack risk in childhood

10 October 2018 (Last Updated October 10th, 2018 10:29)

An international research team has developed a new cost-effective, one-off genetic test called Genomic Risk Score (GRS) that can detect children who are at high risk of a heart attack in adulthood.

One-off genetic test to predict heart attack risk in childhood
The one-off genetic test analyses genetic variants in DNA and calculates the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Credit: British Heart Foundation.

An international research team has developed a new cost-effective, one-off genetic test called Genomic Risk Score (GRS) that can detect children who are at high risk of a heart attack in adulthood.

The team included researchers from the UK’s University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge and Australia’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

UK Biobank genomic data from 500,000 people, including more than 22,000 coronary heart disease patients, aged between 40-69 years was used to create and test the GRS.

“In a clinical study, the researchers found the one-off genetic test to be better at predicting the risk of heart disease compared to each standard risk factor for coronary heart disease alone.”

The scoring system can analyse 1.7 million genetic variants in a person’s DNA and calculate their risk of developing coronary heart disease prematurely.

University of Leicester cardiology professor Nilesh Samani said: “At the moment we assess people for their risk of coronary heart disease in their 40’s through NHS health checks.

“But we know this is imprecise and also that coronary heart disease starts much earlier, several decades before symptoms develop. Therefore if we are going to do true prevention, we need to identify those at increased risk much earlier.”

In a clinical study, the researchers found the one-off genetic test to be better at predicting the risk of heart disease compared to each standard risk factor for coronary heart disease alone.

Besides, the ability of the test to predict the disease was observed to be largely independent of these known risk factors.

As the DNA does not change with age, the GRS can be used to identify the risk much earlier in life, enabling prevention with lifestyle changes and medicines, if necessary.

The one-time test is expected to cost less than £40 ($50).

Study lead author Michael Inouye said: “While genetics is not destiny for coronary heart disease, advances in genomic prediction have brought the long history of heart disease risk screening to a critical juncture, where we may now be able to predict, plan for, and possibly avoid a disease with substantial morbidity and mortality.”

The study was part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, and its results were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.