HONG KONG, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Scientists have identified a mutant gene which appears to increase the risk of heart failure in South Asians, putting one percent of the world's population at risk.
In an article published in Nature Genetics, the scientists from India, Britain and the United States said 4 percent of people of South Asian descent carry the mutation and they would have a lifelong predisposition to heart failure.
This means 60 million people are at risk of heart disease due to this mutation, or one percent of the world population.
"Now that the defect has been identified, there is a new glimmer of hope. It could be detected very early during pregnancy," they said in a statement.
"Carriers of the defect could be identified at a young age by genetic screening and advised to adopt a healthier lifestyle."
"Eventually, new drugs could be developed to ... postpone the onset of symptoms," they wrote.
Using DNA tests, they compared 800 heart patients in India with 699 others without the condition and found that the gene variant - which is linked to cardiomyopathy, or weakness in the heart muscle - was far more frequent among the cardiac patients.
As cardiomyopathy worsens, the heart becomes weaker and less able to pump blood through the body. This can lead to heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, fluid buildup in the lungs or legs and infection of the heart lining.
To ascertain how widespread the mutation was, the researchers screened 6,273 randomly-selected individuals across 35 states in India and found that 4 percent had this defect.
The researchers then extended their study to determine the spread of this genetic abnormality among the South Asian diaspora.
They ran DNA tests on 2,085 people from 26 countries and found that the mutation appeared to be restricted only to people of South Asian descent living in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Currently, cardiomyopathy is treated with medication, pacemakers and defibrillators but they merely relieve symptoms. Some patients eventually require heart transplants. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Valerie Lee)