Heart disease and its risk factors


Texas Biomed scientist Dr. Laura Cox


Texas Biomed scientists have identified the location of genes that control either HDL-cholesterol or LDL-cholesterol. Understanding the function of these genes will help in developing drugs that either lower bad LDL-cholesterol or raise good HDL-cholesterol for the prevention of heart attacks and stroke.

2007, Texas Biomed geneticists announced their discovery that a particular gene, VNN1, plays a major role in the regulation of HDL cholesterol levels, a finding with clear implications for heart disease prevention. In addition, because VNN1 produces cysteamine, which helps transport toxic substances from cells - including excess cystine and glutamine - this gene could become the focus of novel efforts to prevent or treat a variety of disorders, including Huntington's, Alzheimer's and cystinosis.

Effects of a High-Cholesterol Diet

Diet challenge studies in pedigreed opossums and baboons have found genetic differences influencing whether an individual has high blood cholesterol levels when placed on a high cholesterol diet. Identification of the responsible genes and their function will assist in the future development of treatments, but more immediately, it could be used to help determine which individuals are at risk and could benefit from a low-fat diet.

Susceptibility to Common Complex Diseases

1999, Texas Biomed researchers published the baboon gene map, the first genetic linkage of a nonhuman primate. In 2006, they published a second genetic linkage map, this time for the rhesus monkey. These important research tools are being used to find genes that influence susceptibility to common complex diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes, and a wide variety of other ailments.


Researchers at Texas Biomed were among the first to identify genes affecting general variation in body weight, and since 1997, they have identified the locations of more than a half-dozen genes influencing food intake, body fat accumulation and endocrine function. Research on these genes will aid in the identification of individuals at risk of developing obesity and, potentially, in the development of treatments to prevent obesity and related conditions.