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Heart Disease, A thing of the past?

Heart disease is a term that can mean a number of different things. From Coronary Heart Disease (which affects the heart itself) to Hypertensive Heart Disease (a condition that affects the heart because of high blood pressure) - millions of people around the world suffer from some sort of heart/cardiovascular condition. A recent study has linked the prevalence of heart disease (at least in people of Caucasian and European decent) to a mutation in a piece of DNA code called 9q21.

This mutation could lead to an increased risk of heart disease in people of European descent by up to 60 percent. This strange anomaly affects Asians and people who are of African descent much less frequently. The exact effects of 9q21, and how it works are still not known, but scientists are confident that this code mutation is the single biggest factor leading to individuals acquiring a heart condition.

The reason that it is known that 9q21 results in heart disease is because of extensive gene mapping in two research studies. One research team, based in Iceland , used the Icelandic database of genes to track and map people who were affected by a heart disease. Their results have left the scientific world stunned. Over 50 percent of people of European descent have at least one copy of the mutation, while 20 percent have copies on both sets of chromosome 9.

The Icelandic team discovered that people who had only a single copy of the mutation have a 15 ??20 percent chance of developing some type of heart condition, while individuals who have two copies of the mutation have over a 60 percent chance of suffering from a cardiovascular related illness. Having a heart attack before the age of 50 further increases the risk.

Deriving directly from the human genome project, these studies (both in Iceland and the USA ) have resulted in some of the first conclusive findings as to how our basic genetics work and affect our health. Scientists are already talking about developing a testing method to root out this genetic defect and detect an individual's prevalence to heart disease at an earlier age than ever before. There have, however, been strong words of caution against this, as the way mutation works is not known. Developing a testing method before all aspects of the equation are fully understood could potentially lead to a false sense of security.

What is even more astonishing about the discovery of 9q21 is that it is located extremely close to the gene that was recently discovered to lead to a higher risk of diabetes. This had lead to speculation that chromosome 9 could have a number of other important roles in human health and that DNA defects and abnormalities on this chromosome should be studied further.

The finding of 9q21 is a momentous event in the world of science; it does not however, mean that there is a cure for heart disease, even if researchers are eager to begin finding a way to correct the defect. Heart disease will still be an issue for many years to come, until science develops a way to correct the mutation. The only way to realistically protect yourself and your loved ones, at least until a cure is found, is an international health insurance plan.