Supercomputers solve riddle of congenital heart defects

With the aid of pioneering technology, Danish scientists have charted several of the complex biological processes behind congenital heart defects. In time the research will provide better ways to prevent, diagnose and cure heart disease. The new results have just been published in the well reputed journal PNAS.

About 25,000 Danes currently live with congenital heart defects. Both genes and environment play a role for these malformations, but exactly how various risk factors influence the development of the heart during pregnancy has been a mystery until now. 

With the aid of a supercomputer, an international, interdisciplinary research team has analysed millions of data points. This has allowed the scientists to show that a huge number of different risk factors – for example in the form of genetic defects – influence the molecular biology of heart development.  

Towards an individualised treatment

“The discovery of a biological common denominator among many thousands of risk factors is an important step in health research, which in time can improve the prevention and diagnosis of congenital heart defects”, says Professor Lars Allan Larsen from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen.

Thus the results of the study give scientists an idea of how different combinations of variations in hereditary material can expose the individual to disease:

“This is interesting if we want to make treatment more efficient by tailoring an optimal approach for each individual patient”, adds Professor Søren Brunak from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen.

The findings have recently been published in the scientific journal PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA. The project was supported by the Danish Heart Association, Novo Nordisk Foundation and Danish National Research Foundation, among others.

Read the full story on the website of the University of Copenhagen.

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