A pioneering new tool has been developed which uses DNA to calculate a person’s inherited risks for several health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
Teams from the Broad Institute and Harvard University have created a risk score that takes DNA from 6.6 million places in the human genome.
At the moment current standard methods are only capable of identifying a few genetic mutations, but this new tool will find many more.
Senior author Professor Sekar Kathiresa, an institute member and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Initiative at the Broad Institute and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “We’ve known for long time that there are people out there at high risk for disease based just on their overall genetic variation.
“Now, we’re able to measure that risk using genomic data in a meaningful way. From a public health perspective, we need to identify these higher-risk segments of the population so we can provide appropriate care.”
The tool works by researchers gathering genetic variants which have previously been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillatio, inflammatory bowel disease, or breast cancer. They then developed an algorithm for each condition, combining each variant, producing a risk score for each person.
An advantage of the genetic testing is that it can identify people at higher risk of a condition, even if they do not show the signs that are conventionally measured. For example, the genetic variants can identify higher risk of heart disease even in people that have say normal blood pressure levels.
The method was tested in the UK as well as populations of East Asians, South Asians, African Americans and Hispanics. The algorithms produced predictions of people at three times higher risk of the five diseases. For instance, 3.5% of the population were predicted to be at a three times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
However, DNA and risk scores do not necessarily mean a serious health condition will develop. A healthy diet, regular exercise and controlled weight can help prevent many illnesses from occurring, such as type 2 diabetes.
The research has been published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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