School of Medicine researchers have received an $8 million grant to investigate the genetic and environmental roots of cardiovascular disease risk factors. The four-year grant will support the first large-scale, multiethnic statistical analysis of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that looks at lifestyle interactions with genes.
The investigators will use existing data from more than 30 studies, which include detailed genetic data, measures of cardiovascular risk factors — namely, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — as well as information on lifestyle, including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, socioeconomic status and diet.
To carry out this type of study, large numbers of subjects are needed to have sufficient power to detect interactions of genes and lifestyle.
The study represents a massive international collaboration that will bring together data on more than 300,000 subjects from diverse ethnicities. The multiethnic approach will allow a broad view of interactions and how they play out in populations with different genetic and cultural histories.
“This study is unprecedented in many ways,” said principal investigator D.C. Rao, PhD, professor of biostatistics, genetics, psychiatry and mathematics and director of the Division of Biostatistics.
“We have compelling preliminary data that highlight the potential of these investigations,” he said. “We found, for example, several novel genes associated with high blood pressure that were not previously known until the interactions with alcohol consumption or education were brought in.”
Considering lifestyle factors in the context of a genetic analysis offers the possibility of identifying novel genes and may provide clues to intervention points.