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Studying the link between genetics and heart disease

​​​​It's no secret that Wisconsin is a hotspot for heart disease. The rich food we consume is a major factor, and so is our family history. 

woman and motherThis connection between fats in the blood and the genes we were born with is a special interest of Ariel Brautbar, M.D., Marshfield Clinic.

Dr. Brautbar sees patients in Medical Genetics and performs research as both​ a geneticist and a lipidologist, or one who studies genetics and lipids. These fatty substances combine with other fats such as cholesterol to cause narrowing in blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

If you're concerned about your family's medical history, you can order a genetic test that identifies the risk for a number of diseases. Dr. Brautbar's research focuses on what can be done for patients who have a high risk for heart disease or have already had heart problems. One paper he published linked how people with different genetic makeups, or variants, respond to a certain medication.

"If you have a certain genetic variant, you may have the best response to the lipid medication," he said. "With other genetic variants, you can have less response. This is good information to have before starting therapy for some specific conditions."

Dr. Brautbar also has published papers on using genetic variants to estimate the risk for heart attacks, in addition to the traditional markers used by the physician such as age and cholesterol.

"This is an interesting and useful tool that can provide a more accurate estimation of risk for heart attack," he said.

From there, physicians could determine when someone is likely to develop a disease and how it can be prevented or treated. Dr. Brautbar hopes to gain critical insight by analyzing data on the 20,000-plus participants in the Personalized Medicine Research Project at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute.

"This may have direct implications for patient care in the near future," he said. "The idea is to put all of the information together, including medical and family history, with genetic information to get a better understanding of what needs to be done for each individual patient."

The more research is performed to identify strong genetic components of your particular disease, the more your doctor can offer treatments personalized to you. This is what personalized medicine is all about.

Gifts are being accepted to support research such as Dr. Brautbar's in genetics and blood fats. To make a gift to support this kind of research, visit or call the Clinic's Development Department at 1-800-858-5220.