Thursday, August 05, 2010

Forget about diet. It's those pesky genes again

Scientists uncover 95 genes linked to high cholesterol. But does it matter? The link between heart disease and cholesterol is very weak

Scientists have cracked the genetic secrets of high cholesterol, paving the way for new drugs to beat heart disease. Britain's biggest killer, heart disease affects 2.5million people and claims more than 250 lives each day.

The amount of artery-clogging cholesterol and other fats in the blood greatly affects the odds of heart attacks and other problems, but until now, little was known about the genes that control their levels.

More than 100 researchers from 17 countries, including the UK, studied the DNA of more than 100,000 people of European ancestry. This flagged up 95 genetic changes linked to blood fats, or lipids, and heart disease, the journal Nature reports. Further experiments showed that many of the genes also contribute to heart problems in other ethnic groups from around the world.

Working out exactly how these genes raise or lower cholesterol and other harmful fats could lead to new drugs that could benefit millions. Although statins are widely used to lower cholesterol, side-effects lead to many stopping taking them, and some doctors say that while the drugs benefit men, there is scant evidence they ward off heart disease in women.

Researcher Dr Christopher O'Donnell, of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the US, said: 'The new findings point us to specific genetic signposts that allow us to understand why many people from all walks of life have abnormal levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids that lead to heart disease.

'What's really exciting about this work is that we are moving from discovery to understanding brand new information about how genes alter the lipids that lead to heart disease.'

Francis Collins, one of the world's leading geneticists, said: 'Genetic studies that survey a wide variety of human populations are a powerful tool for identifying hereditary factors in health and disease. 'These results help refine our course for preventing and treating heart disease, a health problem that affects millions.'

Professor Peter Weissberg, of the British Heart Foundation, said that although much more work was needed to understand what the genes do and how they work together, such research is crucial in beating heart disease. He added: 'Although this is just the first step down a long road, the good news is that the more we understand about cholesterol regulation, the more likely it is that new drugs will be developed to prevent heart disease.'

In Britain, there are around 230,000 heart attacks a year - the equivalent of one every two minutes. Around a third are fatal. Statins are prescribed to six million Britons judged to be significant risk of a heart attack or stroke, but there have been calls for everyone over the age of 50 to receive them. It is argued that wider access could save hundreds of thousands of lives while also saving the NHS billions a year.


New breed of antibiotic that can beat MRSA

Good news -- for a while

A family of ‘super-antibiotics’ capable of beating MRSA and other deadly infections has been created by scientists. In tests, one of the drugs killed strains of the hospital superbug resistant to antibiotics already in use.

Others were more than a match for other potentially lethal germs, including food poisoning bug E coli, and acinetobacter, a soil-dwelling bug that is even harder to treat than MRSA.

The drugs, details of which emerged last night in the prestigious journal Nature, have been hailed as ‘an important step forward’.

Bacteria resistant to multiple drugs claim around 25,000 lives a year across the EU. New treatments could save the taxpayer millions, as well as save lives.

Many superbugs are resistant to all but one or two antibiotics, and with resistance growing all the time, some scientists predict a ‘medical apocalypse’ in which hospital bugs will be completely untreatable.

The ‘super-antibiotics’ work in a similar way to members of a long-standing family of drugs called quinolones, which tackle respiratory and other infections by interfering with an enzyme that many different types of bacteria need to breed.

The new drugs, which are still in the early stages of development, attach to the same enzyme, but in a different place, meaning they can kill bugs that are resistant to other drugs.

Ted Bianco, of the Wellcome Trust, which part-funded the research, said: ‘This is an important step forward in the race against antibiotic resistance.’

If the drugs live up to their early promise, the first could be on the market within a decade.


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