VA database helps yield discovery on blood pressure genetics

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By tapping into a Department of Veterans Affairs database, an international research team has uncovered genetic associations that could advance future hypertension treatments for patients.

Researchers leveraged the VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), along with data from the United Kingdom Biobank, and in the process discovered more than 250 new genetic variants as well as identified more than 400 new genes associated with blood pressure through changes in gene expression.

In particular, researchers analyzed the relationship between genetic variants and blood pressure traits using the electronic health records of more than 300,000 MVP veterans and more than 140,000 UK Biobank participants.

MVP is a national, voluntary research program that partners with veterans receiving their care in the VA healthcare system to study how genes affect health. The goal is to ultimately enroll 1 million veterans in MVP’s genomic database, which includes DNA specimens and links to tissue specimens, as well as access to the VA’s EHR system, an IT capability to identify patients for a variety of types of studies and analytical tools.

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In addition, researchers replicated their study’s findings by analyzing 17,000 samples from the Vanderbilt University biobank, BioVU and 300,000 from large genetic consortia of blood pressure studies. Results of their study were published in the January issue of the journal Nature Genetics.

“We’re redrawing the map of blood pressure genetics,” says Todd Edwards, a study co-author and associate professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

A team of VUMC researchers worked with the VA on this study, the findings of which suggest that several existing drugs not currently used to treat hypertension could be used to potentially lower blood pressure.

Currently "we can't accurately say what your blood pressure's going to be at age 65 by looking at your genotype," adds Edwards, "but we might be able to tailor your treatment a little more accurately with some of the results we have from this study."

“The door is wide open,” says Jacob Keaton, a Vanderbilt research fellow, who identified gene-drug interactions as part of the study. “We’re bringing findings to the table that we can do something with to have an impact on precision medicine.”

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