$3 million grant awarded to determine genetic relationships to heart failure in minorities

Bing Yu, PhD, The JLH Foundation Chair in Transplant Prevention at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)
Bing Yu, PhD, The JLH Foundation Chair in Transplant Prevention at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

A $3 million grant to determine how genes affect a person’s risk for heart failure has been awarded to Bing Yu, PhD, The JLH Foundation Chair in Transplant Prevention at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. 

The project is co-led with Vasan Ramachandran, MD, inaugural dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio, which is a partnership of UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio.  

The funding, provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, will facilitate research broadening the pool of participants in heart disease studies to include predominantly Black and Hispanic populations.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S., and more than 6.5 million Americans experience the chronic and progressive condition. Statistics have shown that those of Black or African American descent have a higher likelihood of heart failure.

Heart failure, an umbrella term referring to several common heart conditions, is associated with a 50% mortality rate within five years. The condition is often an outcome of other health risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, organ failure, and obesity. While these risk factors are proven contributors to heart failure, Yu’s research will identify the genetic architecture of heart failure patients to see which genes may have contributed to their condition(s).

The researchers hope to identify the genes that lead to heart failure, so that preventive measures can be taken.

“It is always better to prevent instead of treat. Through genetic screening we can see if someone is at risk for heart failure, and be more diligent about monitoring, continuous screening, and prevention interventions,” Yu said.

While previous research has revealed that genetic compositions contribute to conditions that cause heart failure, Yu said little data exists characterizing genetic associations, such as rare and structural variants of cardiac structure and function, especially in minorities.

Yu plans to broaden national data sets to include more nonwhite participants.

“Our study leverages whole genome sequencing data from the Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program, an initiative sponsored by NHLBI, providing an unprecedented opportunity to comprehensively assess genetic susceptibility of heart failure, specifically in understudied populations,” said Yu, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.

By reviewing data collected from health outcomes, along with quantitative evaluations from echocardiograms, Yu and her team of researchers from seven other institutions can identify if genes have any effect on outcomes and cardiac imaging measurements.

“There is a gap in research for how DNA affects someone’s risk for end-stage heart disease,” she said.

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