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Genetic test could be ‘cost effective’ way to spot heart disease risk early, research says

A one-off DNA test could spot people at risk of a heart attack in adulthood much earlier in life for just £40, according to new research.

The study, part-funded by the charity the British Heart Foundation and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, developed a new scoring system to identify those at risk because of their genetics.

It costs £40, making it a “cost effective” way of helping preventing heart disease according to the report’s authors.

The system, called a genomic risk score (GRS), takes into account 1.7 million genetic variants in a person’s DNA to assess their risk.

Usual tests “imprecise”

Currently, patients are assessed based on their lifestyle and clinical conditions, such as cholesterol level, blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. But these are “imprecise”, according to the British Heart Foundation’s medical director Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, who was a senior author of the study.

Unlike the current checks, GRS can be measured at any age, which means high-risk patients can be identified earlier which can help prevent disease.

The GRS was also better at predicting the risk than the current methods. Men who appeared healthy by current NHS health check standards, but had a high GRS were just as likely to develop coronary heart disease as someone with a low GRS and two conventional risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Professor Samani said: “At the moment we assess people for their risk of coronary heart disease in their 40s through NHS health checks. But we know this is imprecise and also that coronary heart disease starts much earlier, several decades before symptoms develop. Therefore, if we are going to do true prevention, we need to identify those at increased risk much earlier.

“This study shows that the GRS can now identify such individuals. Applying it could provide a most cost effective way of preventing the enormous burden of coronary heart disease, by helping doctors select patients who would most benefit from interventions and avoiding unnecessary screening and treatments for those unlikely to benefit.”

The test was devised by analysing the data of almost half a million people from the UK Biobank research project, aged between 40 and 69 years. It included over 22,000 people who had coronary heart disease.