Most hearts work the same, with their functionality largely determined by our overall diet and exercise routines, but certain elements of our heart health are genetic. Recently, a new study revealed some of the most important genes necessary for healthy heart function, a finding which could pave the way for new cardiac research and even personalized healthcare.

The international research team identified 67 genes they believe are involved in the functioning of the cardiac muscle. According to Dr. Yalda Jamshidi, a researcher involved in the study, in a recent statement, although researchers already knew that some of these genes cause serious cardiac diseases, they did not realize that the majority of them also play a role in the way the heart functions.

“Our hope is that by looking at these particular genes, we will be able to link certain genes to the risk of heart problems,” explained Jamshidi. “This would allow clinicians to use a person's genetic makeup to predict whether they have a high risk of heart failure, for example, and consider developing preventative measures.”

The team found the genes by analyzing the ECGs, (a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart), of 73,518 patients from all over the world. The patient's’ ECGs were then compared with their genetic makeup. However, although the genes have been identified, it’s still not clear exactly which role they play in heart function. To do this, researchers may purposely turn off these genes in fruit flies in order to observe their effects on the heart. The results have now been compiled into a genetic library to be used by research teams around the world, and which hopefully will bring the international science community a step closer to understanding the role genetics play in heart function.

Past research has already linked one particular group of gene variants to increased risk of stroke and heart disease. The study, published online in PLOS Genetics, could be used to identify new targets in the prevention and treatment of stroke and cardiovascular disease, and one day help clinicians give patients a more individualized idea of their personal health risks, so that they can be better addressed.

Source: van der Harst P, van Setten J, Verweij N, et al. 52 Genetic Loci Influencing Myocardial Mass. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2016

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