A study that made its way from the Middle East to New York has identified a gene mutation found in those of African descent, shedding some light on why a significant number of black people are predisposed to certain diseases. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Too much fat or triglycerides in the blood stream leads to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and stroke are all diseases that are are found at higher rates among people of African ancestry.
Ronald Crystal, chair of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, says they've found a genetic variation they believe is partially responsible.
"When we looked at the medical literature we found that it had been discovered 20 years ago but was thought to be a very rare mutation," says Dr. Crystal.
It turned out this mutation of a protein gene called Apo-E was relatively common among people native to the Middle Eastern country Qatar.
"Apo-E is a gene that we all have. It codes for a protein that helps us carry fats in our blood," explains Dr. Crystal.
The mutation they discovered in Qatari with African ancestry increases the amount of fat in the blood.
"So we then looked in Africans, and we found that in fact the mutation was pretty common in the Africans as well. Then we transferred the concept to New York. And it turns out it was pretty common in African Americans," says Dr. Crystal.
They looked at the DNA of 2,000 black New Yorkers, the largest study of the three.
"What it means is that four out of 100 New York African Americans have a mutation that will increase the levels of fats, specifically triglycerides in their blood. It's a mild increase, and it's only one little part of the whole puzzle," explains Dr. Crystal.
The discovery could help fine tune or improve drugs as well as answer some questions as to why we see higher heart disease rates in the black community.
"Since you can't choose your parents what you can do is have a healthy lifestyle: Exercise, don't smoke and maintain your weight," suggests Dr. Crystal.
Diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables are key, along with knowing your family history.