Studying the genetic make-up, lifestyle and other risk factors of huge numbers of people around the world with cardiovascular disease is vital in helping us to paint a clear picture of what increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Professor John Danesh, based at the University of Cambridge, is head of a 350 strong team who are working together to study cardiovascular disease in populations around the world. This will help to improve the prediction and prevention of the development of heart and circulatory diseases.
Professor Danesh speaks to Heart Matters about how his research helps fight heart disease.
A worldwide effort
Professor Danesh’s aim is to advance our understanding of how nature and nurture work together in causing heart disease and strokes. To achieve this he is studying large numbers of people with detailed information about genetic make-up, blood biochemistry, lifestyle, and environment.
Over the last ten years his team has established a study that has collected detailed information on risk factors for cardiovascular disease in over 2 million people in 130 different surveys in 25 countries. Because it’s such a large-scale operation achieving a high level of accuracy it has been compared to the Hubble telescope for the study of cardiovascular risk factors.
The bigger picture
Professor Danesh’s team hope to gain new insights into the prevention of disease by analysing information gathered from lots of different aspects of research – including areas like genetics and biochemistry, as well as epidemiology. By looking at the bigger picture the team will get a real understanding of how all of these factors contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Predicting risk reliably
His research has helped to define the major causes of heart disease for whole populations. Just as importantly, he has conclusively shown that some of the ‘newer’ risk factors for heart disease are much less important than was originally thought.
For example, Professor Danesh’s pioneering genetic research project examined levels of a molecule called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. Supporters of the test argued that the higher the level of CRP, the higher the risk of having heart disease, and therefore that CRP could directly cause cardiovascular disease and could be a target for treatment. Professor Danesh’s research demonstrated that in fact there is unlikely to be any causal link between the protein and heart disease risk.