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Gene Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes, say Scientists - 2004-02-09

Scientists in Iceland are reporting the discovery of a variant gene that doubles the risk a person will have a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.

Researchers at DeCode Genetics - the same company that discovered genetic links to schizophrenia - also announced Monday studies with an experimental drug that may prevent such attacks.

In a paper published in the on-line edition of Nature Genetics, DeCode scientists say they have found the variant gene in 29 percent of all heart attack patients under study in Iceland.

Researchers say the variant gene ramps up the production of an inflammatory protein called leukotriene, which can lead to clogged arteries. White blood cells then respond by breaking up the blockages, sending arterial plaque debris downstream where it can reduce or cut off blood flow to the heart and brain.

Researchers say the experimental drug was originally developed to combat asthma - a condition also triggered by leukotriene. They say the drug appears to inhibit the enzyme made by the gene.

Researchers say the drug is already being tested on humans, with advanced clinical trials set to begin by the end of the month.