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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
'Clotting gene' key to heart deaths
heart massage
Even the young can be at risk from heart attacks
Scientists say they have discovered another gene which could increase the risk of younger men dying suddenly from heart attacks.

The research team examined the hearts of 700 Finnish men who had died suddenly outside hospital.

The researchers believe a gene makes some people's blood "stickier" and more likely to form clots.

If these completely block the blood vessels supplying the heart, a heart attack victim may die before reaching hospital.

In theory, knowledge of the new gene could allow men with a family history of sudden heart death to be screened - and preventive treatment given.

The gene is called HPA-2 Met, which appears to play a key role in the blood clotting process.

Autopsy findings

The autopsies found that many of them had died from sudden death.

Those who did were 2.2 more likely to have the HPA-2 Met gene.

The increased risk was particularly evident in men who died younger than 55 - it was found in 59% of men who died of heart attack, and almost 70% of those who died of coronary thrombosis.

In theory, men found to have the variant gene could be given medication such as aspirin and "clot-busting" drugs to counteract the "stickiness" of their blood.

In the general population I have major doubts about whether it could be useful for screening

Dr Hugh Montgomery, University College London
However, it is made clear that the gene is unlikely to be a single factor marking a young man out for a heart attack.

More than 80% of men in study had smoked and many had traditionally known factors such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes.

However, the study leader, Jussi Mikkelson, said: "Sudden cardiac death has a strong familial risk component, so we anticipated that variants like the one in the present study could be associatied with fatal heart attack in young individuals.

"However, the frequency of this particular genetic variation among young men with fatal heart attack was surprisingly high."

Heart experts in the UK believe that the new gene has potential to be useful - although they say it is unlikely to be included in mass screening programmes.

Treatments and targets

Dr Hugh Montgomery, a British Heart Foundation senior lecturer in cardio-genetics at University College London, told BBC News Online: "In the general population I have major doubts about whether it could be useful for screening.

"However, where it will be useful is in helping scientists understand the mechanisms involved in sudden cardiac death. This may help in this."

He also suggested that the test might have an application in spotting people who could be more at risk of suffering dangerous clots at other times, such as during long-haul aircraft flights, or following operations.

See also:

29 Aug 00 | Health
Heart test could save lives
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