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Scientists link new genetics to high blood pressure

30 January 2017

Scientists have discovered107 new parts of our genetic code that are linked to high blood pressure. This means that personalised treatments for high blood pressure could be a possibility in the future.

They also developed a genetic test that could be used to screen people at risk of heart disease in the future.

The researchers used the UK Biobank, a long-term database that follows the health and wellbeing of 500,000 people across the UK. The team studied information from 420,000 of the Biobank participants, comparing their genetics to blood pressure measurements.

One of the researchers involved in the study, Dr Helen Warren, said: “This analysis highlights the benefits of using very large studies, such as UK Biobank, with high quality data where all participants have had measurements done in exactly the same way, to enable the discovery of many new genetic signals associated with raised blood pressure.”

What can the UK Biobank tell us?

The UK Biobank is one of the largest health studies in the world, and it’s co-funded by Diabetes UK. It  collects biological samples (like blood and saliva) and other measurements (including weight, height, and blood pressure) from over 500,000 volunteers in order to follow their health.

The participants are being followed for at least 25 years to help researchers gain insight into conditions like diabetes, dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and stroke.

Professor Naveed Sattar, at the University of Glasgow, is using the UK Biobank to further our understanding of diabetes. He explained: “The UK Biobank is a fantastic resource for diabetes research, given its substantial size of over half a million people. This includes many people living with diabetes and other conditions, and has excellent details about participants’ diet, activity and brain function.

“We can use the database to look at highly detailed genetic information alongside images of the whole body, and, finally, detailed follow-ups of all individuals. These attributes are unrivalled and allow many diabetes-related questions to be answered in a way not previously possible. Thanks to this resource, new findings of significance are starting to emerge.”

Diabetes UK’s investment    

Anna Morris, Diabetes UK’s Head of Research Funding, said: “We’ve invested £365,000 in the UK Biobank to help researchers use the database to study diabetes. We’re really pleased that the database holds the potential to benefit not only people with diabetes, but everyone.

“We’re looking forward to future advances in the treatment of diabetes that will be made possible thanks to this incredible resource.”

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