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Arizona Researchers: Specific Genes May Make Some Prone To 'Broken Heart Syndrome'

genetic, sequencing, TGEN
Andrew Bernier/KJZZ
By using ultra-high resolution cameras, supercomupters and genetic sequencers like this one, researchers have identified the suspect genes that cause cardiomyopathy, a condition making hearts more susceptible to stress.

The emotion felt from the loss of a loved one or stress caused from a traumatic event can take a toll on heart tissue. Now, Arizona researchers have uncovered specific genesthat may make some more susceptible to a broken heart.

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN) and clinicians at Barrow Neurological Institute have discovered a group of genes which may cause stress-induced cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder sometimes called “broken heart syndrome.”

“There are individuals out there who are at risk for this, but may never experience the physiological trigger that then causes it, ” said Professor Matt Huentelman of TGEN. He says a stressful physical or emotional event can send someone with broken heart syndrome into heart failure more easily than someone without it.

“And the patients that we studied, they had a higher than predicted number of mutations at genes within their DNA blueprint that we already know are associated with heart disease,” said Huentelman.

Although an active hiker, patient Jean Shultz exhibited cardiomyopathy after suffering a brain aneurysm. She hopes the research leads to better care for herself and others.

“The fact that I do carry the gene mutation, I guess just having the knowledge of it and if there’s anything that would ever occur in my life that would be extremely stressful, especially emotionally or psychologically, that I would definitely get some help so that my heart would not go into failure again,” said Shultz.

Huentelman said if a doctor knows a patient has cardiomyopathy by reading their genome sequence beforehand, it could provide caregivers information to better tailor care.

Andrew Bernier was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2016.