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A group of researchers from St George’s, University of London, have conducted a study that identified 119 regions in the genetic code that plays a role in shaping and sizing the blood vessels located at the rear of the eye. Furthermore, the team found that an augmentation in the degree of “twisting” of the arteries might lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Retinal imaging offers insights into one’s health

The retina, nerves, and blood vessels in the rear part of the eye can be viewed through a high-quality digital image, which can provide valuable insights into the body’s health. Previous research has shown that the configuration and size of these blood vessels are linked to various health issues, but there was limited knowledge of the genetic factors responsible for their structure. However, the latest research has shed light on these genetic components, which could lead to a better understanding and treatment of related health issues.

Researchers used AI to analyze retinal images of 53,000 people in the UK Biobank study to differentiate between types of blood vessels and measure their characteristics. A genome-wide association study was then conducted on genetic data from 52,798 participants to find similarities in DNA among those with similar blood vessel traits.

Twisted arteries cause high blood pressure

A study involving 5,000 participants in the EPIC-Norfolk’s Eye Study and the UK Biobank identified 119 sections of the genome that are linked to the size and shape of retinal blood vessels, with 89 of them associated with arterial twisting. Retinal artery twisting was found to be genetically determined and was the strongest among the features identified, resulting in elevated diastolic blood pressure and heart disease.

According to Professor Christopher Owen, twisted arteries cause high blood pressure rather than the other way around. This has led to important genetic discoveries that could improve the understanding and treatment of related health issues. AI analysis of retinal images during routine eye checks could identify those at high risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease, allowing early intervention.