The genetic risk of developing coronary heart disease is thought to be the same across different ethnic backgrounds, according to new research which has already started shaping health care.

Much of the previous research carried out into heart disease is based on information from white people, due to participation rates.

However, a major new Veterans Affairs study in America included a wealth of data from people of African and Hispanic backgrounds, which, for the first time, confirmed that the genetic variations that put white people at risk of heart disease pose the same risks to people of different ethnic ancestries.

The findings have already led to the development of new genetic tests which will be used to provide more accurate predictions of who could develop coronary heart disease in later life, with researchers saying: “The impacts of this study on health care are happening now.”

Study author Dr Catherine Tcheandjieu, from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and University of California San Francisco, said: “Some groups, such as African Americans, are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and our findings indicate that’s not because they have a higher genetic risk for the disease.

“It confirms that other factors are responsible for more heart disease in those populations, such as access to health care and different lived experiences.”

Around a third or half of the likelihood of someone developing coronary heart disease is linked to their genes, and this likelihood appears to be the same across European, African, Japanese, and Indigenous ethic and racial backgrounds.

The study, the largest piece of research into the genetics behind heart disease, examined data from almost 250,000 cases of coronary heart disease.

The ‘heart attack gene’ was first identified in 2007, and it is known that people of white, South Asian and East Asian backgrounds are more at risk if they have this gene. Further research never included enough people from different backgrounds to say if having this gene also put them at risk – until this latest study.

Corresponding author Dr Themistocles Assimes, a cardiologist and researcher at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University, said: “Ours is the first genetic study of coronary artery disease that had enough people of African and Hispanic descent to confirm previous findings in white people.”

Read the study in full in Nature Medicine.

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