Investigating the genetics of heart attacks and strokes in Hispanics

Researchers expect to discover new genes associated with cardiovascular diseases.


There are indications that cardiovascular disease will become more common in the coming years, even though it is already the most significant cause of death among Hispanics. A new study by Penn State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is about to investigate the genetic underpinnings of heart attack and stroke in a consortium of studies of Hispanic populations from across the Americas.

This study is built upon prior work, which used the biggest sample of genomic data from Hispanic populations ever compiled to map risk factors for cardiometabolic disease onto specific genetic areas. The study shows several genetic markers of cardiometabolic risk.

Through this new study, researchers aim to determine how those risk variants — or others yet to be discovered — affect cardiovascular health outcomes, specifically strokes and heart attacks. Researchers also hope to find new genes associated with cardiovascular diseases.

Through genomic research, researchers may examine how DNA diversity affects people’s health within a group. There are extremely few genomic studies and data available for Hispanic populations. Hispanic populations make up less than 1% of all Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) research samples, according to the diversity monitor for GWAS.

Genetic information from various sources across North and South America will be used in this investigation. The researchers believe that this is significant since it will create a publicly accessible archive of gene expression data on Hispanic populations for use in subsequent research. As with populations of European ancestry, Hispanic communities lacked the data necessary to analyze how genetic risk factors affect gene expression.

Lindsay Fernández-Rhodes, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, said, “Most existing, large-scale gene expression data sets, including publicly available data from the Genome-Tissue Expression Project, are from white men. Our previous study showed that including more diversity in genetic studies can improve researchers’ ability to detect and interpret the function of genes that are important to specific diseases. The data from the new study will create a resource for researchers who study a wide variety of health problems in populations all around the world.”

Researchers noted“The work will not only benefit Hispanic populations. The research is expected to identify genetic markers associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack found in more than 5% of people in most human populations. Once the genetic markers are identified, the researchers will look for their relevance for other health conditions and use the gene-expression-data resource to interpret the functional impact of these markers on people’s health.”

The research is possible thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.


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