Lower Heart Attack Risk Linked To Genetic Mutation

An error in a gene may protect you from heart attacks? That’s what researchers believe they have found.

BBC News reports that American researchers sequenced the genetic code of 22,000 people. They identified 34 people with naturally occurring errors in a gene known as NPC1L1. Most people have two active copies of that gene. The 34 people found in the study that only had one active NPC1L1 gene, also had lower levels of LDL cholesterol. That is the type of cholesterol that has been directly linked to heart attacks. BBC News says that those with only one active gene had cholesterol levels that were 10 percent lower than those with two active NPC1L1 genes, and their risk of a heart attack was roughly half that of the others.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of the study. Researchers say that about one in 650 people carry the genetic mutation that may make them less prone to a heart attack. The Boston Globe reports that two years ago, the same research team found that people who had a mutation that caused increased levels of HDL cholesterol (so called “good” cholesterol), did not have a lowered chance of heart attacks. This suggests that a higher HDL level alone is not a protection against a heart attack.

Giant pharma corporation Merck stands ready to cash in on this news about genes and heart attacks. Merck manufactures a medication called Zetia. BBC News reports that, unlike the anti-cholesterol drugs known as statins, which are supposed to reduce heart attack risk by stopping the body from producing cholesterol, Zetia works by blocking the NPC1L1 pathway. By blocking the NPC1L1 pathway, Zetia takes away the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol. Tech Times says that while there had been no evidence before this study to indicate that Zetia was effective in protecting against heart attacks, that may now have changed.

Forbes reports that Merck will be presenting the results of an 18,000 patient clinical trial at the American Heart Association meeting on Monday. Merck’s drug, Vytorin, which is a combination of Zetia and Zocor, was criticized a few years ago for not delivering on what it promised regarding reducing heart attack risk. Sales of Vytorin took a huge hit, along with Merck stock prices. Zocor is a statin, and its effect on heart attack risk has been established. But Zetia’s effect was unproven, perhaps until now. The study that will be presented is whether the drug combination in Vytorin is more effective in preventing heart attacks than Zocor alone. Given that Zetia mimics the NPC1L1 genetic error, it is possible that Merck now has the proof they need to say that yes, Vytorin helps prevent heart attacks.

[Image via Extreme Health Radio]