Mapping Icelanders’ DNA Finds Gene Tied to Cardiovascular Disease–More Evidence for Precision Medicine

Maps show how common certain risk-causing DNA mutations are around Iceland.

“The next big initiative in health care in the western parts of the world is going to come through the use of genetics. You can basically trace all human diversity, the risk of disease and the response to treatment”, said the chief executive of Amgen’s deCODE, Dr Kari Stefansson, who has already mapped 1 per cent of Icelanders’ DNA. He also said that their organization provides answers to difficult questions about the cause of disease in an attempt to design better drugs and understand how drugs react to genetic variation.

Already the project has identified a gene with a strong link to cardiovascular disease in Iceland.  This is significant for several reasons.  First, it suggests that genetic sequencing can allow a glimpse into individuals who may carry a high risk for certain diseases and second, by identifying the genetic basis for certain diseases, to allow other routes for researchers and physicians to target in the prevention and treatment of that disease. In the case of cardiovascular disease, physicians and healthcare givers currently target it by seeking to reduce cholesterol levels in patients at risk.  By targeting the gene, more precise (and successful, even cheaper) treatment may be possible.

The Iceland study has also found genetic mutations tied to atrial fibrillation, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, and even gallstones.

Iceland is particularly useful in gene mapping because its population is small and its ancestors came primarily from Scandinavia, Ireland, and Scotland where they remained relatively isolated for over 1,000 years.  Therefore Icelanders have a relatively low level of diversity which makes it easier for scientists to detect genetic variants that raise the risk of disease.

The basis of genetic mapping opens many doors into understanding human biology, disease, behavior, and other questions related to what makes us the way we are.

When a child is born, he or she contains DNA material from both its mother and its father, so in a way and to some extent, if you look at a child, you can trace his ancestors’ DNA. In that way, we are all linked to our forebears.

Another example of disruption–this one with implications for healthcare and who knows what other fields.

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