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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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UK Study Reveals 535 New Genes Associated with High Blood Pressure; Could it Lead to a New Genetic Test Panel for Clinical Laboratories?

UK study shows how LDTs may one day enable physicians to identify patients genetically predisposed to chronic disease and prescribe lifestyle changes before medical treatment becomes necessary

Could genetic predisposition lead to clinical laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) that enable physicians to assess patients’ risk for specific diseases years ahead of onset of symptoms? Could these LDTs inform treatment/lifestyle changes to help reduce the chance of contracting the disease?

A UK study into the genetics of one million people with high blood pressure reveals such tests could one day exist.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London uncovered 535 new gene regions affecting hypertension in the largest ever worldwide genetic study of blood pressure, according to a news release.

They also confirmed 274 loci (gene locations) and replicated 92 loci for the first time.

“This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date. We now know that there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure. This provides us with many new insights into how our bodies regulate blood pressure and has revealed several new opportunities for future drug development,” said Mark Caulfield, MD,

Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, in the news release. He is also Director of the National Institute for Health Research Barts Biomedical Research Centre.

The researchers believe “this means almost a third of the estimated heritability for blood pressure is now explained,” the news release noted.

Clinical Laboratories May Eventually Get a Genetic Test Panel for Hypertension

Of course, more research is needed. But the study suggests a genetic test panel for hypertension may be in the future for anatomic pathologists and medical laboratories. Physicians might one day be able to determine their patients’ risks for high blood pressure years in advance and advise treatment and lifestyle changes to avert medical problems.

By involving more than one million people, the study also demonstrates how ever-growing pools of data will be used in research to develop new diagnostic assays.

The researchers published their study in Nature Genetics.

The video above summarizes research led by Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, which found over 500 new gene regions that influence people’s blood pressure, in the largest global genetic study of blood pressure to date. Click here to view the video. (Photo and caption copyright: Queen Mary University of London.)

Genetics Influence Blood Pressure More Than Previously Thought

In addition to identifying hundreds of new genetic regions influencing blood pressure, the researchers compared people with the highest genetic risk of high blood pressure to those in the low risk group. Based on this comparison, the researchers determined that all genetic variants were associated with:

  • “having around a 13 mm Hg higher blood pressure;
  • “having 3.34 times the odds for increased risk of hypertension; and,
  • “1.52 times the odds for increased risk of poor cardiovascular outcomes.”

“We identify 535 novel blood pressure loci that not only offer new biological insights into blood pressure regulation, but also highlight shared genetic architecture between blood pressure and lifestyle exposures. Our findings identify new biological pathways for blood pressure regulation with potential for improved cardiovascular disease prevention in the future,” the researchers wrote in Nature Genetics.

Other Findings Link Known Genes and Drugs to Hypertension

The UK researchers also revealed the Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene’s relation to hypertension. This gene has been associated with both Alzheimer’s and coronary artery diseases, noted Lab Roots. The study also found that Canagliflozin, a drug used in type 2 diabetes treatment, could be repurposed to also address hypertension.

“Identifying genetic signals will increasingly help us to split patients into groups based on their risk of disease,” Paul Elliott, PhD, Professor, Imperial College London Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health, and co-lead author, stated in the news release. “By identifying those patients who have the greatest underlying risk, we may be able to help them to change lifestyle factors which make them more likely to develop disease, as well as enabling doctors to provide them with targeted treatments earlier.”

Working to Advance Precision Medicine

The study shares new and important information about how genetics may influence blood pressure. By acquiring data from more than one million people, the UK researchers also may be setting a new expectation for research about diagnostic tests that could become part of the test menu at clinical laboratories throughout the world. The work could help physicians and patients understand risk of high blood pressure and how precision medicine and lifestyle changes can possibly work to prevent heart attacks and strokes among people worldwide.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Study of One Million People Leads to World’s Biggest Advance in Blood Pressure Genetics

Researchers Find 535 New Gene Regions That Influence Blood Pressure

Genetic Analysis of Over One Million Identifies 535 New Loci Associated with Blood Pressure Traits

The Facts About High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure Breakthrough: Over 500 Genes Uncovered

Study of a Million People Reveals Hypertension Genes


Severe Lack of Volunteers for Clinical Laboratory Studies Has US Alzheimer’s Researchers Employing Innovative Methods to Recruit Participants

Low interest and a lack of diversity among study participants hinders research into one of America’s most fatal and costly chronic diseases

Finding enough people to participate in clinical laboratory trials for Alzheimer’s disease can be a daunting task for researchers. The shortage of participants has compelled scientists to develop innovative ways to locate volunteers for their studies. That includes “Swab-a-Palooza” events to make it easy for individuals to provide samples for this research and get speedy feedback about their ApoE.

“It’s all about recruitment now,” Stephen Salloway, MD, Director of Neurology and the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., and Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Psychiatry at Brown Medical School, said in an article on the Biomedical Research Forum (BRF) website.

Some researchers are hunting online and offering free genetic testing to interested individuals to ensure they obtain the number of participants needed for their trials. Both the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry (APR) and the Brain Health Registry (BHR) are using the Internet to compile listings of suitable participants.

The APR is dedicated to uniting Alzheimer’s researchers with individuals interested in participating in clinical trials. The Phoenix-based non-profit organization also educates the public on Alzheimer’s and prevention of the disease. The Brain Health Registry is a web-based research study led by medical researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. Participants complete online questionnaires and tests that provide researchers with information regarding an individual’s health, lifestyle, and cognitive function. The collected data is used to create a listing of potential participants for Alzheimer’s studies.

Using Genetic Testing to Recruit Alzheimer’s Study Participants

GeneMatch is a program led by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in the Phoenix area that is part of the APR. The purpose of this national program is to recruit participants for research on Alzheimer’s disease by using genetic testing to match qualified volunteers with research studies. According to their website, 80% of research studies on the disease aren’t completed on time due to a lack of volunteers.

Anyone can register to be part of GeneMatch as long as they live in the United States and are between the ages of 55 and 75. In addition, participants cannot have a diagnosis of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s, or dementia.

“We hold local swabbing parties, where the GeneMatch sign-up rate is 95%,” Pierre Tariot, MD, Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, and Director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, said in the BRF article. “Jeffrey Cummings calls them Swab-a-Paloozas.”

GeneMatch screens individuals for the Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) and the ApoE-e4 allele which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with earlier onset of memory loss and other symptoms. At this time, it is not known how this allele is related to the risk of getting the disease, but researchers have discovered the brain tissue of affected individuals have an increased number of protein clumps called amyloid plaques. A buildup of these plaques may lead to the death of neurons and the presence of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

“I spend a lot of time in my community doing outreach. People are very interested and receptive,” said Salloway, who recently hosted a swabbing party for GeneMatch. “At events, I ask everyone to tell five other people about what they learned, and to host swabbing parties themselves.”

The DNA samples obtained by GeneMatch are analyzed by a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified laboratory. Over the past two years, GeneMatch has tested over 45,000 individuals for the ApoE-e4 allele and were able to identify 1,000 homozygote and 9,000 heterozygote carriers.

Lack of Diversity Among Study Participants

A paper published in September 2017 by Jeffrey Cummings, MD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, estimated the number of participants currently needed for Alzheimer’s research is over 55,000. Clinical trials for Alzheimer’s need volunteers who have little or no symptoms of the illness and locating such interested individuals can be complicated.


Jeffrey Cummings, MD (above), is Medical Director at Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. In an interview with Drug Discovery and Development, Cummings said, “There is a huge problem of recruitment for many diseases throughout the nation. The problem goes beyond Alzheimer’s disease; there is a general lack of awareness by the public of either the availability or the importance of clinical trials.” (Photo copyright: Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)

Additional obstacles that face Alzheimer’s researchers are the lack of diversity among volunteers for their studies. The participants in GeneMatch are 78% female and there is little representation of African-American and Latino minorities.

“It’s not easy to get healthy individuals to join, and those who do are predominantly highly educated, white, and female,” Jessica Langbaum, PhD, Principal Scientist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, said in the BRF article. “That’s okay if the women are the health-info gatherers and send their men for trials, but it will be a problem if we cannot get men into studies.”

Delivering ApoE Genotype Results at Events

Technology that could help locate participants for Alzheimer’s research at open “Swab-a-Palooza” events include a small ApoE analyzer called the Spartan Cube. The small molecular diagnostic device, manufactured by Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, Inc., can deliver an ApoE genotype result in less than an hour. The gadget is perfect for outreach gatherings, as people can learn their ApoE genotype while at an event. At this time, the Spartan Cube is used only for research purposes and is not CLIA approved.

The paper by Cummings was a topic of discussion at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD), which was held in November in Boston. The CTAD is an annual conference for Alzheimer’s disease researchers to meet and share information about the disease with each other. The 11th CTAD conference will take place in Barcelona, Spain, in October of this year.

More than five million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and this number could reach 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and cost the nation $259 billion in 2017. It’s estimated that the costs associated with the disease could reach $1.1 trillion by 2050, which makes finding volunteers for research studies an important endeavor.

—JP Schlingman


Related Information:

Don’t Be an Enrollment Loser: Throw Your Own Swab-a-Palooza!

Alzheimer’s Disease Drug Development Pipeline: 2017

A Cure for Alzheimer’s by 2025? An Interview with Jeff Cummings, MD