Scientists have discovered a previously unrecognized gene variation that makes humans have healthier blood lipid levels and reduced risk of heart attacks -- a finding that opens the door to using this knowledge in testing or treatment of high cholesterol and other lipid disorders. But even more significant is how they found the gene, which had been hiding in plain sight in previous hunts for genes that influence cardiovascular risk. This region of DNA where the gene was found had been implicated as being important in controlling blood lipid levels in a report from several members of the same research team in 2008. But although this DNA region had many genes, none of them had any obvious link to blood lipid levels. The promise of an entirely new lipid-related gene took another six years and a new approach to find. In a new paper published online on March 16, 2014 in Nature Genetics, a team from the University of Michigan (U-M) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reports that they have zeroed in on the gene in an entirely new way. The team scanned the genetic information available from a biobank of thousands of Norwegians, focusing on variations in genes that change the way proteins function. Most of what they found turned out to be already known to affect cholesterol levels and other blood lipids. But one gene, named TM6SF2, wasn't on the radar at all. In a minority of the Norwegians who carried a particular change in the gene, blood lipid levels were much healthier and they had a lower rate of heart attacks. And when the researchers boosted or suppressed the gene in mice, they saw the same effect on the animals' blood lipid levels.
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