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Health and wellness

Better treatment of heart disease eyed for East Asians with discovery of genetic factors by HKU researchers

Data from University of Hong Kong study paves way for doctors to better predict and treat coronary heart disease in the region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 8:53pm

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong have made new discoveries of genetic factors linked to blood lipid levels in East Asians, paving the way for doctors to better predict and treat coronary heart disease in the region.

The team, who collaborated with researchers in the United States and mainland China, identified three new genes and 14 genetic variants which had significant associations with blood lipid levels and were more common in East Asians, according to a study released on Thursday.

Their work, which was recently published in leading scientific journal Nature Genetics, was based on DNA samples from 47,532 participants recruited from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. It analysed and compared them to more than 300,000 samples from Europeans and other non-Asians.

Previous data linking lipid levels and genetic factors had largely come from Western populations, meaning that predictions on the risk of developing coronary heart disease were not as accurate for East Asians.

Abnormal blood lipid levels are important risk factors for developing coronary artery disease. Up to 50 per cent of the variation in blood lipid levels is determined by genetic composition, while only 10 to 15 per cent is affected by diet, researchers said.

Tse Hung-fat, chair professor of cardiovascular medicine at HKU, said the discoveries were significant as they showed the links genetic variants had with blood lipid levels were population-specific.

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“East Asians and Europeans have different genetic compositions, and the effects on blood lipid levels are different. What is significant about the study is that we can now use this data to better predict the risk of East Asians developing coronary heart diseases,” Tse said.

For example, two in every 1,000 people in East Asia were found to have the genetic variant LDLR (R257W), which leads to higher total cholesterol levels in the blood. This variant means the risk of developing coronary heart disease is three times higher than for those without it.

However, only two in every 100,000 Europeans have such a genetic variant.

The study also found there were some rare genetic variants in East Asians that had a larger impact on blood lipid levels and presented a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Hong Kong Department of Health figures show that heart disease has been the third leading cause of death in the city since the 1960s. In 2015, an average of 11 people died from coronary heart disease every day.

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The HKU study’s findings come after a recent government health survey predicted a 10.6 per cent risk of cardiovascular problems, including coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease and heart failure, among people aged 30 to 74 over the next 10 years.

Researchers said the HKU data could help doctors screen high-risk patients and facilitate development of new drugs targeted at lowering blood lipids to prevent heart disease.