London, Sep 18 Scientists have discovered 500 new gene regions that influence people's blood pressure -- a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease -- after analysing data from over a million participants.
The findings, published in Nature Genetics, more than triple the number of blood pressure gene regions to over 1,000 and means that almost a third of the estimated heritability for blood pressure is now explained.
The study, led by Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London in the UK, reports a strong role of these genes, not only in blood vessels, but also within the adrenal glands above the kidney, and in body fat.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease and was responsible for an estimated 7.8 million deaths worldwide in 2015.
While lifestyle risk factors are relatively well-known and include obesity, smoking, alcohol and high salt-intake, high blood pressure is also highly heritable through genetics.
Prior to this study however, the genetic architecture of blood pressure had not been well understood.
"This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date. We now know that there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure," said Mark Caulfield from Queen Mary University of London.
"This provides us with many new insights into how our bodies regulate blood pressure, and has revealed several new opportunities for future drug development," said Caulfield.
"With this information, we could calculate a person's genetic risk score for high blood pressure in later life," he said.
"Taking a precision medicine approach, doctors could target early lifestyle interventions to those with a high genetic risk, such as losing weight, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise," he said.
"Identifying these kinds of genetic signals will increasingly help us to split patients into groups based on their risk of disease," said Paul Elliott from Imperial College London.
"By identifying those patients who have the greatest underlying risk, we may be able to help them to change lifestyle factors which make them more likely to develop disease, as well as enabling doctors to provide them with targeted treatments earlier, reducing the burden of disease on the health service and increasing people's quality of life," Elliott said.
The study indicates some potential new targets for drug development and suggests that some drugs prescribed for other diseases could be repurposed for treating hypertension.
For example, one of the newly discovered gene regions is targeted by the type 2 diabetes drug canagliflozin.
Repurposing drugs already known to be safe could be a quick and cost effective way to treat patients who show resistance or intolerance to current therapies. MHN