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Winter 2008

Perspective: Understanding Heart Disease Via Genetics

The new Program in Cardiovascular Genetics is an important addition to the already impressive array of cardiovascular care available at the UCSF Heart and Vascular Center. We are all aware that a lot of diseases "run in families." In some cases, the disease is strongly familial and the patient's children, brothers, sisters and other close relatives may be unaware of their risk for serious problems that could be preventable or more easily treatable if discovered early.

The Program in Cardiovascular Genetics is beginning its work by focusing on families with conditions that have a strong pattern of inheritance, such as Marfan syndrome, various forms of cardiomyopathy and certain arrhythmias such as Brugada syndrome or long QT syndrome. A genetic workup will often change the prognosis and treatment for individual patients at risk for these conditions, but its influence is much wider.

Familial disorders are a special challenge because the medical care most appropriate for these patients extends beyond the patients themselves. The best care includes an assessment of each family member's own risk for disease, the disease risk in current or future children and the management of the fear, anxiety and guilt that often accompany familial disorders. The partnership between cardiology and genetics is particularly well suited to provide this kind of comprehensive care.

The program is off to a strong start. We anticipate expanding it to cover a wider array of disorders, including those with less obvious patterns of inheritance in families, as more information on the genetic contributions to heart disease becomes available.

Robert Nussbaum, M.D.
Co-director, Program in Cardiovascular Genetics
UCSF Heart and Vascular Center

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