First study in North America uses genetic testing to identify people at risk of heart disease

Dignity Health in Arizona is launching the first research study in North America in which genetic testing is used to identify men and women at risk of developing heart disease based on the makeup of their DNA.

If proven effective in clinical trials, this form of genetic testing may be adopted globally to prevent heart disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the world – in fact, half of Americans are expected to have at least one cardiac event in their lifetime.

Throughout the duration of the study, the cardiology team at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center and St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center will collect DNA samples from approximately 2,000 men and women who have no known history of heart disease. The DNA samples will then be analyzed at Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center Clinical Lab to determine if the participants have genetic markers known to cause heart disease.

This should be the last century of heart disease. I am hopeful that through the results of this study we will be able to save even more lives in the future by implementing genetic testing for early prevention of coronary artery disease as routine clinical application. This approach would represent a paradigm shift in the prevention of this disease."

Robert Roberts, MD, Medical Director of Cardiovascular Genomics, Dignity Health in Arizona

Once the DNA genotyping is completed, the team at Dignity Health hospitals in Arizona will evaluate each participant's genetic markers to determine if they have a low, medium or high chance of developing heart disease. Other health and lifestyle factors will also be considered when determining the participants' risk of heart disease. These include hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and whether the participant smokes or is physically active, among others.

The study participants who have expressed a desire to know their results will be notified by letter. Individuals at high genetic risk for heart disease will have the opportunity to meet with cardiology experts and undergo genetic counseling where needed based on their results and appropriate preventive treatment options.

"It's important for study participants to have the support they need when going through genetic testing," said Dr. Roberts. "The genetic counseling team will work closely with the participants who choose to learn of their results to help them understand the findings of their genetic test and what this means moving forward. Cardiologists will also be available to consult with participants and explain how they can prevent developing coronary artery disease."

Those eligible to participate in the study are men and women between the ages 40 and 60. They must also have no known history of heart disease, as the goal of the study is to determine their genetic risk for developing heart disease before it actually develops.

The duration of the study is expected to last approximately 10 years. During the first two years, DNA samples collected from participants will be evaluated for their risk of developing heart disease. Throughout the remaining period, investigators will be following participants annually to check the status of their heart health, whether they made any lifestyle changes and if they decided to adopt preventative treatment.

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