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Study reveals over 2,000 genetic markers that affect blood pressure

A comprehensive analysis involving data from over one million individuals has identified more than 2,000 genetic signals associated with blood pressure, including 113 newly discovered genomic loci.

As one of the largest studies of its kind, the research expands our understanding of how blood pressure is regulated and sets the stage for future breakthroughs in medical research and treatment strategies.

Supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research was a collaborative effort across multiple prestigious institutions and utilized data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS).

These studies collectively examined the genetic makeup of large groups to identify variants linked to blood pressure and hypertension.

Exploring the genetic foundations of blood pressure

By merging four extensive datasets, the researchers were able to paint a clearer picture of the genetic underpinnings of blood pressure.

The findings revealed a complex network of genetic factors that contribute to blood pressure levels, highlighting the intricate nature of genetic influence on this common yet critical health indicator.

Dr. Helen Warren is a Senior Lecturer in Statistical Genetics at Queen Mary University of London. “We have now revealed a much larger proportion of the genetic contribution to blood pressure than was previously known,” said Dr. Warren.

This revelation is crucial as it opens the door to potential new drug targets and advances in precision medicine, particularly in the early detection and prevention of hypertension.

Polygenic risk scores

One of the significant outputs of this study is the development of polygenic risk scores, which combine the effects of numerous genetic variants to predict an individual’s blood pressure and their risk for hypertension.

Consequently, individuals with the highest genetic risk show mean systolic blood pressure levels approximately 17 mmHg higher than those with the lowest genetic risk, and they face a sevenfold increased risk of developing hypertension.

Study senior author Professor Patricia Munroe highlighted the utility of these new scores. “Our results provide new resources for understanding biological mechanisms and importantly, new polygenic risk scores for early identification and stratification of people at risk for cardiovascular diseases.”

Emphasizing diversity in genetic research

This study represents a significant advancement in genetic research while also highlighting the critical need for more diverse genomic data. Most of the analyzed data came from individuals of European ancestry – a frequent limitation in genetic studies.

Nevertheless, the researchers confirmed the relevance of their findings for individuals of African ancestry by utilizing data from the National Institute of Health’s All of Us Research Program.

The inclusion of this diverse data is essential for the broader applicability of polygenic risk scores in routine healthcare, ensuring that advancements in medical science benefit a globally diverse population.

The continuing challenge of hypertension

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly one billion people worldwide and poses a significant risk factor for numerous health conditions, including heart and kidney diseases.

Environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle exacerbate the genetic component of this condition, underscoring the importance of ongoing research in this area.

Understanding high blood pressure

The collaboration of over 140 investigators from more than 100 universities, institutes, and government agencies worldwide underscores the global commitment to understanding and combating high blood pressure.

The study not only advances our genetic knowledge but also paves the way for innovative treatment and prevention strategies that could significantly impact public health.

More about high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a common condition where the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. The condition is often called the “silent killer” because it doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it has done significant damage to the heart and arteries.

Generally, blood pressure readings are given in two numbers. The top number, systolic pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries between beats.

Risk factors for developing high blood pressure include obesity, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, family history, and a diet high in salt but low in potassium. High blood pressure is manageable and treatable through lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol intake, and eating a balanced diet.

The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.


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