Many common diseases of the heart and circulation, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart attacks run in families. It is important to understand why this is the case as this could open up new ways of preventing, predicting and treating these common conditions.
Genetic control of blood pressure
BHF Professor Sir Nilesh Samani was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours List for his services to medicine and medical research. Studying DNA donated by families with hypertension, as well as experimental models, Professor Samani's team has mapped the position of several genes in our DNA that influence blood pressure and are currently homing in on the true disease-causing genes.
At the same time, they have investigated the role of several known genes and shown, for example, that certain variations influence risk of high blood pressure only in obese people. Findings like this may have implications for tailoring treatment choices for different people.
An important question is: how do our genes interact with lifestyle factors such as salt intake and physical activity in determining blood pressure levels? The Leicester team have started a major investigation in this area.
Heart disease runs in families
Professor Samani collaborated with now-retired BHF Professor Stephen Ball in the BHF Family Heart Study. At the time, from 2000-2005, it was the largest study of families ever reported to unravel how our genetic inheritance can predispose some people to heart disease.
Ali decided to take statins after his brother had a heart attack and he found out that he had high cholesterol, increasing his own risk of having a heart attack.
Platelets and heart attacks
The immediate cause of a heart attack is often a blood clot forming in one of the arteries that feeds the heart. Small blood cells called platelets are a key part of the clotting machinery. Professor Samani has shown that people whose families have a history of premature heart attack have platelets that are 'stickier' than those who don’t.
This points to a possible inherited platelet abnormality that increases a person's susceptibility to heart attacks. The team is currently investigating the reasons behind this.
Ageing and heart disease
Heart disease increases with age but why there is such a wide variation in its age of onset even in subjects with similar risk-factor profiles?
The research team is exploring whether people who develop heart attacks at a young age are 'biologically' older than their chronological age.
This may provide us with an entirely new way of looking at the development of coronary heart disease and provide new targets to develop effective drugs against its development or progression.
Read more about what motivates Professor Sir Nilesh Samani in Heart Matters.