Recently, scientists in Iceland discovered a rare and previously unknown genetic variation that lowers heart attack risk and decreases cholesterol levels. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, could potentially pave the way for new cardiovascular drugs, NBC News reports.


For the study, researchers at deCODE genetics, a branch of the American biotech firm Amgen, reviewed human genomes and clinical data across population groups in Iceland. Scientists found that certain people with naturally low cholesterol and heart disease risk factors seemed to be missing 12 letters from a specific gene on chromosome 17. (The letters represent amino acids that connect to form proteins in DNA molecules that carry genetic information.) Researchers later confirmed the genetic peculiarity in an additional 300,000 people from around the world.


Interestingly, the genetic variation offered people with the mutation more heart protection than could be accounted for by their lower levels of cholesterol alone. This suggested that the gene mutation might also reduce inflammation—a recognized risk factor for heart attack—as a result of the missing protein-forming amino acids. Researchers said these associations might suggest a new direction to explore for creating future therapies to prevent coronary artery disease that leads to heart attack.

To learn more about how variations in the human genome may hold the key to defeating a wide array of health issues, click here.