In the US and the UK, high blood pressure (hypertension) affects approximately one in every three adults and is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Efforts to combat the condition through customized treatments might have just gotten a big boost thanks to a study led by Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London that teased out over 100 genes implicated in its development.

To find the genetic markers that were linked to high blood pressure, the researchers examined data from 420,000 people who have volunteered to have their health information made available to researchers as part of the UK Biobank project. By using computer analysis of their genetic data and cross-referencing it with their blood pressure status, the researchers were able to find 107 different genes linked to the condition. Many of those genes were found expressed in large numbers in the participants' blood vessels and cardiovascular tissue.

The link between hypertension and the genes offers hope for new treatments, say the researchers.

"Finding 107 new genetic regions linked to blood pressure almost doubles the amount of genes we can evaluate to target for drug treatment," said Professor Mark Caulfield, co-lead author from QMUL. "These exciting genetic regions could provide the basis for new innovative preventative therapies and lifestyle changes for this major cause of heart disease and stroke."

Another benefit from analyzing all of that data was that the researchers were also able to come up with a genetic risk score that could be used to identify individuals likely to suffer from hypertension and its complications as they age. As the risk score goes up, it becomes more likely that an individual will have high blood pressure by the time he or she is 50 years old. In fact, the patients on the top end of the chart had a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease and stroke than those on the lower end.

"If such a genetic risk score could be measured in early life, it might be possible to take a 'personalised medicine' approach to offset a person's high risk of stroke and heart disease," says a QMUL report about the study. "This could involve lifestyle interventions such as changing sodium and potassium intake, weight management, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise."

The research findings have been published in the journal Nature Genetics. More information about the study can be seen in the following video.

Source: Imperial College London