An international team of researchers part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has identified 22 new genetic risk factors for stroke, tripling the number of genetic mutations known to increase stroke risk.
Researchers carrying out the MEGASTROKE study, published in Nature Genetics, studied the DNA of more than 520,000 people from around the world, comparing the genes of those who had suffered different types of strokes with healthy volunteers.
The team hope that this major advance will lead to drugs to prevent multiple types of stroke.
Around a third of the newly-discovered genetic variants - different versions of a gene - are thought to increase stroke risk by increasing a person’s blood pressure, while the remainder appear to increase the risk of a stroke in completely new ways.
One specific gene increased a person’s risk of two very different types of stroke; haemorrhagic stroke - where a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain - and ischaemic stroke - in which the blood supply to the brain is blocked, for example by a blood clot.
The researchers believe that this discovery could pave the way for new drugs to help reduce the risk of a person suffering from both of these common types of stroke.
There are more than 100,000 strokes each year in the UK, costing the healthcare system an estimated £2 billion. Stroke is also one of the leading causes of death in the UK, killing around 38,000 people every year.
Associate Professor Jemma Hopewell, BHF Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, and one of the study’s authors, said: ‘Stroke is the second most common cause of death as well as a major cause of disability worldwide, but its causes remain poorly understood, which makes developing new treatments challenging.
‘The hope is that with this study we’re now one step closer to identifying new treatments for stroke.'
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘By helping us to better understand what causes a stroke and those who are at higher genetic risk, this research will help us to prevent them occurring and develop desperately-needed new treatments. Ultimately, this could save lives.
‘Although some exciting new developments have been made in treating strokes, such as clot bursting treatments and clot retrieval devices , the options at our disposal for treating and preventing strokes are still far too limited.
‘Around 38,000 people die each year in the UK after having a stroke. Across the UK there are 1.2 million people are living with the cruel and debilitating after-effects of this devastating disease. New treatments are long overdue and these results give us new hope.’