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Largest Genetic Study Establishes Hereditary Links To Atrial Fibrillation To Explore Treatment Options

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Patients with atrial fibrillation suffer from rapid and irregular heart rate that puts them at greater risks of stroke.

A new large-scale study involving more than half a million individuals looked at genetic risk factors for heart arrhythmia.

The Study

A joint study conducted by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston University School of Public Health explored the use of human genetics in creating cardiovascular therapies that work for people with atrial fibrillation.

"In atrial fibrillation, the upper chamber of the heart beats irregularly. The electrical chaos in this chamber is similar to what happens after you throw a handful of pebbles into a pond and waves crash into each other randomly," said Patrick Ellinor, an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard who also led the study.

Details of the study are available in the June 11 edition of Nature Genetics.

Working On Genetic Data

Ellinor and his team studied genetic data of people from four ethnic groups, including 65,000 individuals with atrial fibrillation. Analysis showed different levels of gene expression between healthy individuals and those with atrial fibrillation.

"The identified loci implicate genes enriched within cardiac developmental, electrophysiological, contractile and structural pathways. These results extend our understanding of the biological pathways underlying AF and may facilitate the development of therapeutics for AF," the authors of the study reported

Available Therapies For Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation affects more than 33 million people globally. Physicians apply shock therapy called electrical cardioversion in patients with atrial fibrillation so the heart can go back to its normal rhythm.

However, not all atrial fibrillation patients are responsive to electrical cardioversion, so other invasive procedures may be done to prevent stroke. Some of them are put in pharmacologic cardioversion therapy, where they are given blood thinners like warfarin, according to the American Heart Association.

Patients with atrial fibrillation are prone to blood clots in the heart's left atrium, which can lead to stroke once it reaches the brain. However, pharmacologic and electrical cardioversions do not treat the underlying heart disease, which could pose dangerous bleeding risks.

Development Of Cardiovascular Genomics

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Bayer HealthCare are investing resources in the development of cardiovascular genomics. It is an emerging field in the medical industry that uses genomic data to explore new ways to treat cardiovascular diseases.

Experts said cardiovascular diseases like atrial fibrillation is associated with lifestyle activities such as tobacco smoking, diet low level of physical activity, and genetics.

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