Statistics has shown that one out of three adults in the US has high blood pressure or hypertension. However, even with such numbers, only half of the individuals with high blood pressure are able to manage their condition. Moreover, a number of people are also unaware that they suffer from the condition. A lot of people also do not realize that hypertension may occur at an early age. Thus, given the number of unconscious people that it affects, hypertension has been called as the silent killer, causing around 200,000 deaths every year.
There are various factors, including the environment and genetics, that determine the risk of developing hypertension. However, people who have the condition can manage it by eating healthy meals and doing physical activities. Still, people should realize that doing those things are not the sole factors that can help them in managing or preventing the occurrence of high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are also required to take medications, and they should do such thing for the rest of their lives because as of the moment, no known cure for hypertension exists.
Genetics is an important factor that contributes to a person’s risk of developing hypertension. Likewise, there are specific genetic factors that are associated with blood pressure management, and such factors have not yet been discovered and studied. The role of genetics in the onset of high blood pressure is complicated, and many factors included in the human genome are involved in this condition. Moreover, these genetic factors affecting hypertension may work individually or in cooperation with other factors.
At the laboratory of University of Toledo, a team of researchers studied hypertensive rat models to determine possible genetic factors that affect hypertension. The genes involved in high blood pressure were monitored in order to identify minuscule genetic factors or genome parts that are inherited from parent to offspring.
In the experiments, after the genetic factors had been identified, they were replaced in their specific genomic location in the hypertensive rats with genetic pieces that came from normal rats. The produced rat models were named as congenic rat strains. Thus, basically, the only difference with the hypertensive rats and the congenic ones is the replaced genetic material. The study aimed to monitor the change in blood pressure in the congenic strain rats to identify whether the observed genetic material plays a role in the management of blood pressure.
After the experiment, researchers observed a number of genetic pieces are also involved in controlling the blood pressure of the human body.
Each genetic factor in the any genome comprises specific DNA sequences, which are combinations of the four DNA bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C). Around three billon DNA bases make up the entire human genome. There are cases when a base in a specific DNA sequence is replaced at the same location in another individual.
Meanwhile, any type of change in the DNA, how small or large, may lead to the occurrence of specific diseases. For instance, for a specific location in a genome, a person may have the DNA base A, whereas another individual may have C or A may be missing. Given this possibility, UT researchers aimed at observing DNA variations in the genetic pieces that they studied.
After the experiments, the researchers noted that a sequence, which is composed of 19 DNA bases, in a rat model with lower blood pressure is absent in another rat model that had higher blood pressure. The technique used in determining such sequence is CRISPR/Cas9. The process was also used to determine whether the 19 bases of the sequence play a major role in the observed differences in blood pressure of the observed rat models.
Using CRISPR/Cas9, the researchers removed the 19 bases from the low-blood-pressure rats. Their succeeding observation showed that the rats with the missing 19 bases had higher blood pressures. To expand their research, the researchers investigated whether the hypertension of the rat models could be treated upon reinsertion of the 19 DNA bases. After reinsertion, the researchers noted the decreased blood pressure in the rats with the reinserted genomic bases.
Thus, based on the results, genome surgery can be used to genetically address the causes of hypertension. However, as most people know, the common process of managing hypertension is through medication intake. Moreover, people with hypertension are required to take such medication their entire life. Basically, the approach used in the research focused on correcting the inherited causes leading to hypertension occurrence.
Hopefully, in the future, more research will focus on treating hypertension on humans, with focus on addressing genetic factors that contribute to hypertension.