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UAB Cardiogenomics Clinic Transforms Cardiac Care Through Genomic Medicine

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one person dying of heart disease every 36 seconds. Although lifestyle factors play a major role in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Cardiovascular Institute have determined that genetics may also play a role in the development of cardiovascular risk factors. The UAB Cardiogenomics Clinic uses a patient’s genetic history to help develop a personalized treatment plan based on their genetic results.

“The approach to understanding the risk of developing potentially fatal heart diseases can vary, from using the latest advances in genetics to simply talking with our grandparents,” said Ali Al-Beshri, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Genetics. “As technology has evolved, we have gained an improved understanding of what to do and how to manage individuals who are at risk for inheriting cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, the latest advances in genetic medicine such as gene-based therapeutics are becoming increasingly common in the clinical pipeline.” 

Inherited heart diseases can often go undetected for several years, but most of these diseases have a strong genetic basis that can allow health care experts to identify them early and take preventive measures. The Cardiogenomics Clinic helps patients interpret their genetic results and provides genomic counseling, a comprehensive cardiovascular assessment, and a treatment plan for common cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, valvular heart disease and diseases of blood vessels.

“Inherited cardiovascular conditions include abnormally high cholesterol, cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias; but many of these conditions can be managed through screenings, follow-ups, prevention and other treatment options,” said Pankaj Arora, M.D., an associate professor in the UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease and director of the UAB Cardiogenomics Clinic. “Many times, patients have to visit multiple centers and coordinate their clinical care. Our clinic is designed to mitigate the concerns of family members and patients with inherited cardiovascular diseases and provide the services they need all in one place.”

Arora says many of their patients realize they are at risk for a particular condition after they hear about a relative’s experience. This can lead to confusion on the best way to proceed.

“The value of extensive family history cannot be overemphasized,” explained Taylor McClinchey, a clinical genetic counselor in the clinic. “When we see a patient, we are not taking on a single patient but their entire family. The clinic provides team-based care for patients and their families so they understand what to do if they have a genetic variation, and how it impacts them, their children and their significant others.”

The role of genomic medicine in cardiology has grown substantially over the past few years and is now used to treat a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart attack and stroke.

“We better understand that high blood pressure is determined by a composite of common genetic variations summarized as a polygenic risk score,” said Vibhu Parcha, M.D., a clinical research fellow. “These genetic risk scores help accurately predict the risk of cardiovascular events in the future and allow us to tailor our treatment plan. However, the clinical integration of these tools is still pending.”

UAB CARBON is a cardiogenomic biobanking effort led by Arora and Parcha under the UAB Cardiovascular Clinical and Translational Research Program. This program brings the same genomic medicine-based clinical research that is used in underrepresented communities.

The clinic provides a broad spectrum of cardiology health care services for people of all ages and those with all types of heart diseases in the southeastern United States. 

Article provided by UAB News.