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The Making of Medicine

Why Stroke is So Deadly for People of African Descent

An international team of scientists has identified genetic contributors to the elevated stroke risk seen in people of African descent. That’s important because the increased risk is substantial: People of African ancestry have up to three times the risk of dying from stroke than do people of European descent. Those who survive often suffer worse outcomes.

Our Bradford B. Worrall, MD, was part of the large team that is shedding light on this under-researched area. Until now, most genetic stroke studies have focused primarily on people of European descent, and the results have not always held true for African-Americans.

To address that gap, the researchers examined previous studies to identify genetic risk factors specific to people of African descent. In total, they looked at the genomes of 3,734 people who suffered strokes and more than 18,000 who had not.

They found one common gene variation was strongly associated with increased risk in those of African ancestry. The gene previously has been associated with both stroke and cardiovascular disease.

They also identified 29 other variants that appear likely to influence risk.

“Given the undue burden that people of African ancestry endure from stroke and other cerebrovascular disease, the lack of investigation of risk factors in this group has been a substantial gap,” said Dr. Worrall, a neurologist. “Our work is an important step toward filling that gap, albeit with much more work to be done. These findings will provide greater insight into ethnic-specific and global risk factors to reduce the second leading cause of death worldwide.”

The analysis was conducted by the Consortium of Minority Population genome-wide Association Studies of Stroke (COMPASS).

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