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Major discovery in preventing cardiovascular diseases

An international group of researchers has discovered a set of key genes that regulate blood pressure.

These genes collectively not only predict the likelihood of developing hypertension but also the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. These diseases are currently the leading cause of death worldwide.

The findings provide important new perspectives for drug development. The researchers published their results today in two leading international journals: Nature en Nature Genetics. Dutch researchers from Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, University Medical Center Utrecht, Leiden University Medical Center, VU University Amsterdam and University Medical Center Groningen contributed to the research results.

More than a billion people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure. In the Netherlands, 40 percent of the people aged over 60 years have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is affected by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Until now, it was difficult to identify the genetic factors responsible for hypertension. Professor Cornelia van Duijn, head of research for the Dutch group and genetic epidemiologist at Erasmus MC: “We studied a wide range of aspects of blood pressure, including the systolic and diastolic pressures but also the difference between the two, the pulse pressure. There are now more than 30 variants in the genetic material that appear to affect the blood pressure. Although the effect of the individual genes is small, the combined effect of the genes on the blood pressure is significant. The combination of abnormalities brings about a change in the blood pressure comparable to that brought about by regular high blood pressure medication.”

The research results are a great leap forward in the knowledge on the genetic influence on blood pressure. A major finding was the fact that the genes are also of significance for people of Asian and African origin. Hypertension is a very common condition in these population categories. Patients of African origin are particularly difficult to treat for hypertension with regular medication because other mechanisms play a role. The study has revealed new processes that play a major role in the blood pressure of different ethnic groups and therefore provides new opportunities in the development of medication for patients with high blood pressure. There is still a substantial group of patients for whom the existing drugs cannot sufficiently keep the high blood pressure under control. Satisfactory treatment is extremely important as even small differences in blood pressure can increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack. Van Duijn: “The value of the set of genes regulating the blood pressure is shown by the fact that together they also ascertain the risk of cardiovascular diseases, damage to the left ventricle and strokes.”