Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is a huge problem for the U.S., as the CDC reported that around 18 million American adults suffer from CAD. A common form of heart disease, CAD leads to the arteries narrowing and hardening around the heart muscle. Because of this, the probability of a heart attack significantly increases.
As over 300,000 Americans die due to a heart attack every year, it’s important that at-risk individuals get the proper diagnosis and treatment. To help with this, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have developed a smartphone app to help calculate the genetic risk of CAD in an individual.
Background: How CAD Develops
There are many reasons that an individual can develop CAD, including diabetes, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol, or a poor diet. If an individual develops CAD, they may experience higher chest pain, sweating or problems breathing. Women have slightly different symptoms, usually experiencing more fatigue and sleep disturbances than men. While CAD is caused mainly by an unhealthy lifestyle, there is also a genetic component that can lead to this disease. This is what the researchers hoped to learn more about by working on their app.
Analysis: An App for Your Heart
In their study published in npj Digital Medicine, the scientists created an app called MyGeneRank, which analyzed inputted user data to try and predict CAD. Users could input their genetic data from companies like 23andMe into the app, as well as answer health questions to calculate their probability of having CAD. The researchers had 721 participants use the app to see if it worked. According to the first author and cardiologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute, Even Muse: “We now have the opportunity to integrate a person’s genetics into their cardiovascular health assessment to help them better understand their individualized risk and empower them to make the necessary modifications- including the addition of statin therapy- to their risk factor optimization plans.” Knowing how likely an individual is for CAD can help them to better understand what changes they need to make in order to get healthy.
Outlook: Your Smartphone Can Make You Healthier
Not only did the team find that their new app worked, but noticed that out of the 721 participants, those who had a high CAD score were more likely to get help, like using statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications. “We saw about twice the rate of statin initiation in the high genetic risk group vs. the low genetic risk group,” explained professor Ali Torkamani of the Scripps Research Institute, “which indicates that strategies like this could make a big contribution to public health- heart disease being the largest cause of death globally.” As the app is available both on an Android and an iPhone platform, users have easy access to calculating their risk for CAD. For those using medications, the app even checks in a year later to see how individuals are doing. The researchers are hoping to scale up their app to include more studies in order to learn more about avoiding heart attacks.
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/