Monday, 19 January 2009

Gene deletion: Scientists find genetic basis for heart attacks in Indians

January 19, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 18: Scientists at the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology have unravelled the genetic mystery behind the high incidence of heart diseases among people living in the Indian sub-continent.

People in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other regions in the South Asia are relatively more prone to heart problems including heart attacks than those living elsewhere in the world. An international collaborative study by the CCMB has now found a genetic link between the high rate of heart ailments and those residing in the Indian sub-continent.

Since heart ailments in a majority of Indians suffering from cardiac problems are linked to genes, lakhs of people living in the country are destined to invite cardiovascular diseases. The pioneering research study was published in the latest edition of Nature Genetics on Sunday.

According to Dr K Thangaraj, who pioneered the study, heart diseases among Indians are linked to a single genetic mutation. This mutant gene is found only in people inhabiting the Indian sub-continent. An estimate puts the number of people bearing this gene in the Indian sub-continent including Sri Lanka is six crore. This in other words means a majority of Indians are bound to have heart-related problems at least in their later life.

Thus far, heart diseases in India and other parts of the Indian sub-continent have been linked to lifestyle changes and sedentary life. But the CCMB study has now added a genetic factor too, thus doubling the risk of the cardiac problems. Since a majority of Indians are predisposed to the villain mutant gene, their chances of contracting heart problems increase if their lifestyle is bad and unhealthy.

The wayward gene has been identified as MYBPC3, which provides the blueprint for a certain kind of heart protein. When the gene mutates, it produces a protein that's abnormal and faulty. And this triggers heart problems.

The CCMB team has also found an answer why young Indians generally do not get heart problems. Young people have the capacity to degrade the abnormal protein and thus lead a healthy life. As Indians grow older, they lose the capability of degrading the protein. The consequences are high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (weakening of heart muscles) and in extreme cases, heart attack leading to death.

Dr Thangaraj and his team pointed out that this bad mutant gene is present in all groups of people irrespective of their caste, creed, language and region. As many as 25 scientists sampled more than 2000 people from 26 countries spread over the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. The villainous gene was found only among people in the Indian sub-continent and to some extent in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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