A major study proves scientists can now identify people at risk of a heart attack using a blood test or saliva sample – from childhood onwards.
DNA testing can be used to spot those at increased risk decades before they have an attack, they found.
More than 190,000 people suffer a heart attack in the UK each year and nearly 70,000 die as a result, making it one of the country’s biggest killers.
Major study shows that scientists can now identify people at risk of a heart attack using revolutionary genetic testing and spot those at increased risk decades before an attack
Scientists from Cambridge and Leicester found that a fifth of the British population – about 13million people – have a significantly higher risk of suffering a heart attack by the age of 75 due to their genetic make-up.
A £40 blood test could identify these people in childhood, giving them time to make the lifestyle changes necessary to cut their risk and extend their lives.
Those at the highest risk could be put on statins and blood pressure pills from a young age to reduce the danger.
The breakthrough, published last night in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, is part of the first wave of a ‘genomic’ revolution expected to transform British healthcare.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week said genetic testing would become routine within a few years. ‘I’m incredibly excited about the potential for this type of technology to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients to help people live longer, healthier lives – a vital part of our long-term plan for the NHS,’ he told the Tory Party conference.
The breakthrough was published last night in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Genetic testing is currently only used for a handful of cancers and rare diseases. The new research, led by renowned cardiologist Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, of the University of Leicester, involved assessing the genes of 500,000 Britons.
The team studied 1.7million genetic variants to give each person a ‘genetic risk score’ which predicted their chances of having a heart attack.
They found people with the highest 20 per cent of scores were 4.17 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those with the lowest 20 per cent of scores.
Because genetics stay the same throughout someone’s life, this risk could be established at any point from birth – and steps taken to moderate it.
For example, the average man in the high-risk genetic group had a 10 per cent chance of suffering a heart attack by the age of 61.
But if he had more than two ‘unhealthy’ risk factors – such as smoking, being obese or diabetic, or having high cholesterol or blood pressure – the 10 per cent heart attack risk was reached 13 years earlier, at 48. If he had none of the unhealthy risk factors, however, the same heart attack risk was not reached until the age of 68.
Similar trends were found for women, though at later ages.
Researcher Dr Michael Inouye, of Cambridge University, said ‘Advances in genomic prediction have brought the long history of heart disease risk screening to a critical juncture.
‘We may now be able to predict, plan for, and possibly avoid a disease with substantial morbidity and mortality.’
A boy of nine whose heart looked as if it was ‘pumping out of his chest’ had one of the fastest pulse rates ever recorded.
Jack Searle’s heart was beating 301 times a minute when he walked into A&E at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge in January.
He had felt ill at school and his mother Laura, 37, said: ‘He was grey and lethargic and his heart was visibly pumping too fast – you could see his chest moving through his jumper.
‘I think the doctors were pretty surprised. They thought their machines were broken and the nurse said ‘‘That can’t be right’’, got another machine and it was the same.’
A healthy resting pulse rate is 70 to 100 beats a minute.
Jack, from Cambridge, went into intensive care where he was given beta-blockers to lower his blood pressure.
He was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, an abnormal heart rhythm caused by electrical impulses that originate above the heart’s chambers.
After two days, he was fit enough to go home, and in June surgeons at Great Ormond Street hospital in London succesfully operated to correct an abnormal conducting pathway in his heart.
Now ten, Jack is playing sport again and able to live a normal life.