Decoding Cholesterol & Arthritis

Decoding Cholesterol & Arthritis

goncalo abecasisIn the past six months, SPH Associate Professor of Biostatistics Goncalo Abecasis and his research team have identified new genetic variants associated with two chronic health conditions. In an international study of 20,000 people, they found seven new genes that influence blood cholesterol levels, a major factor in heart disease, and confirmed 11 other genes previously thought to influence cholesterol.

Abecasis says the results may lead the medical community to rethink the role of HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) in heart disease, because the study showed that while genetic variants that increase bad cholesterol are also linked to an increased risk for heart disease, the reverse is not true. Genetic variants that influence good cholesterol are not linked to a decreased risk of coronary artery disease. The findings suggest that new drug therapies designed to target gene regions involved in higher LDL (or bad cholesterol) regions will help prevent heart disease and allow people to live longer, healthier lives.

In a second study, Abecasis and his team found that common genetic variants linked to arthritis may play a role in human height as well. The international study of more than 35,000 people confirmed a link between decreased height and an increased risk of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis.

Abecasis and his colleagues speculate that both extremes of height—tall and short—may be associated with osteoarthritis, for different reasons. Shorter bones and/or less cartilage may render joints more susceptible to damage, while longer bones may produce greater levels of damaging stress on joints.

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