Cardiovascular Genomic Research

Advances in the science of the human gene and its application to medical care are the breaking wave of much of medicine. In its most basic definition, genomics seeks to find the relationship between particular genes or groups of genes and the functions of cells and organs in health and disease.

Among the nation’s trailblazers in genomics research and application is the McCormick Genomics Center at The George Washington University, one of the few centers in the world to focus on cardiovascular genomic research. This research will enable doctors to profile an individual’s genetic make up and predict whether they are at risk for cardiovascular disease and what treatment will work best. By identifying the genes that can cause and cure heart disease, researchers hold in their hands the potential for personalized medicine.

Building on this natural partnership with another of the University’s centers of excellence, the Institute has begun its research initiatives. The following are examples of cardiovascular genomics research already underway at the George Washington University Heart & Vascular Institute.

  • One study attempts to identify the gene or genes that help the body use aspirin to prevent blood clots in the heart. For millions of patients, about 20-25 percent of the population, their bodies don’t respond to aspirin therapy and they are at risk for increased blood clots and heart attacks. Knowing patient’s genetic risk factors, who does or does not benefit from aspirin, allows for personalized treatment approach, which can be life saving.
  • A second study screens for genomic biomarkers of anthracycline and Herceptin cardiotoxicity. These are agents commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer. These chemotherapy drugs are also well known to cause severe heart failure in 1-4% of patients using either drug alone and cause up to 28% heart failure to patients using a combination of theses therapies. The goal of this study is to identify patients who are susceptible to heart failure as a result of using these cancer therapies. Obtaining this information will allow doctors to individualize cancer treatment and save lives.
  • In a third effort uses genetic advances to identify people who are at risk of heart attacks.  Using new genomic technologies, scientists and physicians have identified a genetic marker, which is correlated with a 70% increased risk of heart disease.  It is now essential to determine whether knowing that genetic risk will help patients and physicians prevent heart attacks by modifying their known risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.