Scientists Trumpet Discovery Of Cholesterol Genes, But Hold The Champagne : Shots - Health News An international team of researchers has found 95 spots on human DNA that affect fat in the blood. Before celebrating the end of heart disease, consider the challenge of turning the insights in useful treatments.
NPR logo Scientists Trumpet Discovery Of Cholesterol Genes, But Hold The Champagne

Scientists Trumpet Discovery Of Cholesterol Genes, But Hold The Champagne

A bunch of scientists from around the world teamed up to comb the DNA of more than 100,000 people for genetic factors that mess with cholesterol.


And, after sifting through enormous amounts of data, they found 95 spots in the human genetic code that affect fats, including cholesterol, in the blood.

Many were previously known and are associated with eventual heart trouble. But the work turned up 59 new variations that could provide clues about cardiovascular disease and perhaps eventually lead to drugs to combat it.

Sounds terrific, right? "It's a goldmine of new discovery," the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Daniel Rader, a senior author of one of the papers, told the Los Angeles Times.

We're not popping the champagne just yet, though. And it's not because we're against scientific exploration and discovery. Far from it. We can hardly get enough of the stuff.

But as the authors of one paper and an accompanying commentary note, the 95 different genetic variations the researchers identified probably account for only 10 to 12 percent of the total variation in blood fats.

So, to us, that looks like a research glass that's way more than half empty.

Now, it's certainly true genetic insights can open completely new avenues of scientific work.

Part of the reason we focus on the emptiness in the glass is because we've heard so many claims before about how this or that genetic discovery just might be the first step down a path that leads to a treasure chest of knowledge and treatments.

The problem is that the so many steps are required to go from the most boffo genetic insight to something practical for patients.

And often those steps lead to a dead end, even for the coolest ideas, like a "liquid Drano" for coronary arteries that got its start after researchers found a mutation in the genes of some Northern Italian villagers who rarely got heart disease.

So here's hoping that some of the latest findings pan out. Just don't count on that happening anytime soon.