Your eyes may hold clues to heart health

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A team of scientists from St. George’s University, in collaboration with other experts, has made an intriguing discovery within the human genome.

Their research has unveiled 119 specific areas in our DNA that appear to influence the appearance and twisting of blood vessels in our eyes.

These findings carry significant implications because the way these blood vessels twist can be linked to serious health issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

The Window to Our Health

Doctors have a remarkable tool at their disposal known as retinal imaging, which allows them to obtain a detailed view of the back of our eyes.

This imaging technique provides insights into the retina, the rear portion of the eye, along with the intricate network of blood vessels and nerves.

Essentially, it offers a unique “window” through which doctors can gain insights into our internal health.

A Clue from Previous Observations

Prior to this groundbreaking study, other researchers had noted that the size and shape of these blood vessels might be associated with various diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

However, the extent to which our genes played a role in this remained a mystery.

Unraveling the Mystery

To delve deeper into this mystery, the researchers turned their attention to eye images from approximately 53,000 individuals participating in the UK Biobank study.

Rather than manually analyzing these images, they employed computer programs equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

This AI could distinguish between different blood vessel types, assess their width, and measure their degree of twisting.

Following this, they conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to investigate whether individuals with similar blood vessel characteristics also shared similar genes.

The results were remarkable: 119 segments of our DNA appeared to influence the appearance of these blood vessels.

Of these segments, 89 were specifically linked to the degree of twisting exhibited by the blood vessels. Intriguingly, a higher degree of twisting was associated with an increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure and heart-related problems.

The Significance of the Discovery

This discovery signifies that a simple eye examination may provide doctors with valuable insights into a patient’s heart health.

Moreover, by gaining a deeper understanding of the genes responsible for these blood vessel changes, scientists may ultimately develop novel treatments for these significant health issues.

The leader of this groundbreaking study, Professor Christopher Owen, and his dedicated team have published their findings in the journal PLOS Genetics.

For individuals dealing with blood pressure concerns or anyone who knows someone affected by these issues, this discovery offers a glimmer of hope for the future of heart health assessment and treatment.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies about a big cause of heart failure, and common blood test could advance heart failure treatment.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about a new way to repair human heart, and results showing drinking coffee may help reduce heart failure risk.

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