July 14, 2014

WASHINGTON — Genetic research has led to all kinds of advances in treating cancer. And now it’s showing great promise in beating the biggest killer in America — cardiovascular disease.

Scientists have already identified a gene mutation that protects against heart attacks by keeping fatty triglycerides low. Two major studies released last month independently reached the same conclusion, giving a new push to the development of medications that mimic the genetic affect.

“Perhaps this is the first step in designing new drugs that could reduce heart risk through triglycerides,” says Dr. Allen Taylor, chief of cardiology at the MedStar Heart Institute.

He says genetics could prove to be a game-changer in the treatment of heart disease and the prevention of heart attacks.

Taylor says he believes genetic research could ultimately have as big an impact on cardiology as it has had on oncology — the medical specialty that deals with cancer. Already, he sees signs of a shift from treating heart patients with pills to using the kind of potent, targeted forms of injectable drugs available for cancer patients.

Among them is a new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors. They work by suppressing a particular gene, and could be an alternative for patients who do not respond to standard treatment with a statin.

Taylor says they look very promising, and are part of a whole range of drugs in development that “work in different ways but could potentially be very potent.”

There hasn’t been a new blockbuster heart drug since the statins were introduced in the late 1980s.

“This really could make a huge turn in the way we treat heart disease risk,” Taylor says.

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