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Missouri S&T professor looks for a genetic cause of high blood pressure

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Finding the genome linked to high blood pressure will be a focus of research at Missouri S&T.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly half of all adults have high blood pressure, and a Missouri University of Science and Technology professor thinks there could be a genetic cause.

Research into that could also provide evidence to combat racism in some medical practices.

Jinling Liu, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri S&T, is leading research that will go through enormous amounts of cardiovascular disease data to look for a connection with genomes.

While Liu and her team will look at large amounts of data, one of the objectives is to learn how genome research can help individual patients.

“We are taking into consideration each patient’s specific genomic background to identify their personalized genomic causes. This individualized method shows a lot of potential,” Liu said.

The five-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will also examine the correlation between hypertension and race.

Individualized methods will be used to better understand the genomic causes of why African Americans have a higher incidence of high blood pressure than white Americans.

“Some people’s misconceptions think it’s just because of their lifestyle. Lifestyle may matter, but that is not the only factor to consider when you are talking about complex diseases like hypertension,” Liu said.

Ultimately, Liu said, what the research reveals will guide intervention and prevention strategies that are more accurate and timelier for people of different races.

“With all that data, we will be able to help them identify the genomic factors underlying hypertension and other diseases. So we will be able to use this information earlier in their life even before they develop hypertension and other diseases,” she said.

This study is part of a bigger movement to “personalized medicine.” Liu hopes the future will allow everyone to have their entire genome sequenced, which will help patients and their doctors make personalized health plans long before any conditions develop.

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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