The CARDIoGRAM consortium, of which the Heart Institute is a founding member, reported finding 13 new genetic regions associated with increased risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack. CARDIoGRAM brings together research teams from around the world to pool data sets and increase their power to identify relevant genes. The strategy has been quite successful, greatly expanding the number of known genes. In order to eventually turn this information into new therapies, the next step is to understand how these genes increase risk. The group has several such functional studies under way.
A blood test could be developed to test for carriers of the risk variant.
In another approach to putting genetic information into practice, Heart Institute researcher Naif Almontashiri presented an advance coming out of the Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Centre. The Centre has been working for several years to expand on its discovery of 9p21, the strongest independent genetic risk factor known. It has now shown that the protein interferon-alpha 21 is a biomarker for 9p21 risk. This means that a blood test could be developed to screen for carriers of the risk variant. Because the increased risk is great and as much as 25 per cent of the population is affected, such a test would be valuable for use with undiagnosed individuals. The researchers have applied for a patent.