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Iceman clue to heart disease genes

Thursday July 31st, 2014

Scientists have found the oldest human with heart disease - identifying major genetic risks dating back thousands of years, it was revealed last night.

The so-called Iceman, found in the Tyrolean Alps, lived some 5,300 years ago.

Now a genetic study has found a gene variation regarded as one of the "strongest predictors" of heart attacks.

The discovery is one of several highlighting the role of genetics in human heart disease and revealing the risks that go back centuries.

Heart disease is often regarded as a modern illness, caused by obesity, smoking and inactivity.

CT scans of the Iceman's mummified body had already revealed calcium deposits in the arteries, suggesting potential heart disease.

Several studies of ancient heart disease are reported in Global Heart, the journal of the World Heart Federation.

Researchers led by Professor Albert Zink, of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen, Bolzano/Bozen, Italy, say the Iceman was homozygous for the minor allele (GG) of rs10757274, located in chromosomal region 9p21.

They write: "Even though our human ancestors lived far different lives than we do, their environments and lifestyles were not protecting them against the development of atherosclerosis.

"Until now, the Iceman is the only ancient human remain in which a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease has been detected...future genetic studies of ancient humans from various geographic origins and time periods have the potential to provide more insights into the presence and possible changes of genetic risk factors in our ancestors."

* A second study in the journal suggests "no difference" in rates of heart disease - or its severity - between modern and ancient Egyptians. The findings come from CT scans and may reflect the wealth of those Egyptians whose mummified remains were available for study.

Global Heart 30 July 2014

Tags: Africa | Europe | Heart Health

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